by Victor Iannello, August 23, 2014
Here I present the basic outline of a scenario to explain the disappearance of MH370. Although there are few hard facts, I have attempted to construct a scenario which reconciles the following observations:
- The satellite data, and in particular the Burst Timing Offset (BTO) and the Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) data sets, from which my analysis suggests that MH370 traveled south on auto pilot and crashed around 34S, 94E. This data is the most concrete evidence and forms the basis of the theory.
- The primary radar data, which suggests that MH370 was traveling northwest in the Malacca Strait when the last radar echo was captured at 18:22 UTC. Because at least two countries have detected what could be the path of MH370 (Malaysia and Thailand), this data is also deemed correct.
- Sailor Kate Tee’s sighting of a low-flying plane just south of Great Nicobar Island.
- The sighting of a low-flying aircraft in the Maldives Island.
The particular scenario that I propose is highly speculative, and would require coordination of nefarious elements across several countries. On the other hand, the disappearance of MH370 is like no other incident that we have ever seen, and could be an indication of just how well-organized, resourceful, and disbursed our enemies may be. In the presentation of the scenario, I have chosen to italicize the specific sequence of events that are speculative.
Sequence of Events in First Part of Flight
The plane took off in a normal manner around 16:30 UTC and ascended to 35,000 ft by 17:07 UTC. At 17:19 UTC, the pilot or co-pilot transmitted the final message to ATC, acknowledging a hand-off to Ho Chi Minh City ATC, passed the waypoint IGARI at 17:21 UTC, and seconds later disappeared from the civilian (secondary) radar. Soon after, military (primary) radar shows the plane turned back toward the Malay Peninsula.
The timing of the lost transponder signal on secondary radar is both curious and telling because it fits the pattern of a plane that was actively avoiding detection by taking advantage of the interruption of surveillance that occurs during the handoff from one ATC to another. This and later actions suggest human intervention, either by the crew or by passengers and/or stowaways.
Let’s consider the possibility that the pilot and co-pilot were not accomplices to the hijacking and consider ways in which a B777 may be commandeered. It is now an exposed vulnerability that the B777’s avionics bay can be accessed via a floor hatch in the galley area of the passenger compartment. This video shows this in great detail.
The avionics bay provides a means to take complete control of the plane without first subduing the crew. The following sequence of actions might have occurred:
- The circuit breakers to all communication systems, including the transponder, were opened.
- The cabin was depressurized.
- The oxygen supply to the cockpit was cut-off, and the oxygen tank in the avionics bay was used to provide oxygen to the hijackers.
- New waypoints were entered into the flight computers.
- The lock to the cockpit door was de-energized.
- After the crew and passengers were incapacitated from lack of oxygen, the hijackers entered the cockpit to fly the plane.
The hijackers might have been passengers that gained access to the avionics bay through the galley area. Another possibility is that the hijackers were stowaways hidden either in the avionics bay or in the adjoining cargo compartment, which is accessible via a door.
Once the hijackers gained control of the plane, the flight management computer could have been programmed to fly a course towards the waypoint KOTA BHARU, and then into the Malacca Strait to VAMPI, MEKAR, and NILAM.
Reasons for the Hijacking
It has been suggested that the hijacking occurred because a group wanted to bring attention to a political cause. However, no group has come forward to claim responsibility for the hijacking, other than a separatist movement in the Xinjiang province of China, a claim which has been discredited. Other reasons for the hijacking that have been proposed are ransom money in exchange for the passengers, the theft of valuable cargo, and the prevention of Freescale employees with specific technical knowledge from reaching China. If there were demands for ransom money that were denied by China and/or Malaysia, eventually the group demanding ransom would let their demands be known to a broader audience to increase the political pressure. This has not occurred. Although it is possible that the Freescale employees were the reason for the hijacking, companies go to great lengths to ensure that intellectual property (IP) is properly documented and protected so that little IP would be lost when the Freescale employees went missing. The most likely motivation for the hijacking would have been that valuable cargo was onboard the flight.
What kind of valuable cargo might have been destined for Beijing from Malaysia? It is possible that it was advanced technology that would have strategic value, such as components or materials for a nuclear weapons program or chemical agents. However, China already has access and capabilities in these areas, and would likely not need to import this type of cargo through Malaysia. More likely, the cargo had monetary value. In particular, it might have been gold or other items of high monetary value which routinely pass through Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is becoming a trading hub for gold in Asia.
Sequence of Events in Next Part of Flight
At 18:25 UTC, the communication systems were powered up, as evidenced by the login sequence of the satellite data unit (SDU). Prior to power up, the transponder and ACARS were switched off so that upon power up, the plane remained undetected.
At around 18:29, the plane began a descent into Banda Aceh Airport, turning from a northwest heading to a southwest heading. The waypoint WITN was entered, which corresponds to the Maimun Saleh Airport in Sabang, Weh Island, Indonesia, which is just north of Banda Aceh. Upon reaching WITN, the plane turned towards the Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport (formerly called Blangbintang Airport) at Banda Aceh, aligning with and landing on runway 17. This approach path would be over the sea. The plane may have landed automatically, facilitating a night landing even by an inexperienced pilot, which is possible since that runway has an operational instrument landing system (ILS) and a B777 may be autolanded. The plane landed at around 18:46 UTC.
Once on the ground at Banda Aceh, the precious cargo was quickly unloaded. More jet fuel may or may not have been added. The plane then took off at 19:06 UTC from runway 35, which is towards the sea, and followed the standard departure pattern towards waypoint BEDAX. Once at BEDAX, the plane turned due south, and remained on that heading throughout the rest of the flight. The intention was to hide the plane by crashing it as far south into the Indian Ocean as possible. It was a remarkable success as no debris from the plane has yet been found.
The chosen path of MH370 was motivated by a careful analysis of the satellite data, and in particular the BTO and BFO values from the logs released by Inmarsat. A more detailed discussion of the analysis can be found here.
Figures 1 and 2 below show the flight path of MH370 from the time it departed Kuala Lumpur to the time it crashed in the ocean around 34S, 94E.
Figures 3 and 4 show the excellent match of the measured BTO and BFO data sets with the values that are predicted for the sequence of events presented above.
Possibility that the Satellite Data was Spoofed
There has been speculation that perhaps the SDU of MH370 was altered in such a way that the satellite data would lead us to believe the plane went south when in fact the path was to the north. I do not think this is likely. This type of modification of the SDU would require extensive and detailed knowledge of the operation of the SDU, including access to the source code and all the programming tools that would be required to rebuild the micro-code of the SDU. Unless personnel from the manufacturer of the SDU, Honeywell-Thales, participated in this effort, this would be practically impossible to do. Also, the satellite data, and in particular the BFO data set, is not easy to interpret, even by Inmarsat. There would be much more obvious ways to lead an investigation in the wrong direction. For these reasons, I believe that the hijackers were not aware that after the ACARS was disabled, satellite data continued to be exchanged.
It would be possible for an avionics technician or somebody with equivalent training to alter the identification number of the SDU so that one plane might be mistaken for another, perhaps with a change done mid-flight. This would only require a change to an input parameter rather than a rebuild of the software. However, the BFO values from MH370 reveal a “frequency offset” of around 150 Hz that seems to remain constant during the flight and would be hard to replicate in another SDU. For this reason, it appears that the same SDU was tracked throughout the flight.
Conjecture About A Second Aircraft
The sequence of events so far presented does not address two other important pieces of evidence:
- Sailor Kate Tee’s sighting of a low-flying plane just south of Great Nicobar Island
- The sighting of a low-flying aircraft in the Maldive Islands at 1:15 UTC.
In fact, Inmarsat’s interpretation of the satellite data directly contradicts the possibility that the plane was ever located near the Maldives because the predicted satellite data does not match the BTO and BFO data. This has stumped many investigators, and has led many to disregard either the satellite data or the Maldives sightings.
Instead, I propose that there was a second plane whose existence can help reconcile all the evidence. This second plane approached Banda Aceh airport flying slow and low to avoid radar detection. Kate Tee describes a low-flying plane that crossed her sailboat at night at a time corresponding to 19:30 UTC and when she was at about 6.63N, 94.45E, which would put her close to waypoint NOPEK, about 34 nm southeast of Great Nicobar Island and about 88 nm northwest of Banda Aceh Airport. The plane was flying on a southerly course, which would be in the direction of Banda Aceh. Kate did not see windows on the plane, and describes the plane as glowing bright orange, with a trail of black smoke.
The cause of the orange glow has caused much speculation among MH370 investigators as Kate has said that the glow did not flicker as it would if there was a fire. One researcher has shown that if a plane with winglets is illuminated with orange lights on the wings and the plane was white, the reflected light from the winglets would make the plane appear to glow orange on a very dark night. This explanation would exclude the possibility that Kate saw MH370 because a B777-200ER does not have winglets. However, this explanation would support the theory that there was a second plane.
The researcher goes on to say that there are two Indonesian airlines that have aircraft of the correct type and coloring. They are Lion Air and Malindo.
It is possible that the plane landed at Banda Aceh Airport to retrieve the cargo that was unloaded from MH370. Once the cargo was loaded, the plane departed.
There have been several reports from residents of the Maldive Islands of a “low-flying jumbo jet” that crossed the island in a southerly direction around 6:15 am local time, or about 01:15 UTC. The plane was white and with red markings. Residents say that it is an extremely rare occurrence for a plane of that size to be sighted near the Maldives. It is possible that the plane sighted by Kate is the same plane seen in the Maldives.
More Conjecture About Diego Garcia
The only destination to the south of the Maldives and within reasonable distance for a low-flying aircraft would be the US military installation at Diego Garcia, an unlikely destination for a plane carrying stolen cargo from a passenger airliner. The possibility exists, however, that US intelligence became aware of the second aircraft carrying the suspicious cargo that was loaded at Banda Aceh, and intercepted the plane. In fact, after the 9/11 attack, then-President Bush announced that the government would be devoting funds to “enable controllers to take over distressed aircraft and land it by remote control.” Certainly if this capability came to fruition, the capability would have existed at Diego Garcia.
Even More Conjecture About a Link to MH17
On the surface, the shooting down of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 in Ukraine seems unrelated to MH370 except that both were Malaysia Air flights. Upon closer inspection, the gold cargo that might have been loaded onto MH370 at Kuala Lumpur and unloaded at Banda Aceh might be the key to finding a common link.
In the days before the disappearance of MH370, there were stories reported in the Western press about 20 billion dollars of missing gold reserves of Ukraine that were stolen by the recently-ousted, pro-Russian regime of Viktor Yanukovych.
There was also a report in the Russian media that on March 7 (the day before the disappearance of MH370), the gold reserves of Ukraine were airlifted from Kiev under the custody of the New York Federal Reserve, possibly to protect the reserves in the event of a Russian-led invasion. The reserves were worth an estimated 1.8 billion dollars.
So, we have pro-Russian and pro-US sides each accusing the other of inappropriately taking gold from Ukraine. Could some of this gold be the precious cargo that was loaded onto MH370 with an intended destination of China?
In the same manner that we have the two Ukrainian sides accusing the other of gold theft, we also today have the same sides claiming the other was responsible for the downing of MH17. It is possible that whoever was attempting to move gold from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on MH370 also holds Malaysia partly responsible for the theft of the gold. If so, then MH17 could have been downed as retribution for the stolen gold. It is possible that the gold may have been ultimately recovered by American forces at Diego Garcia.