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MH370: Sifting reality from conspiracy


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Some very strange reports about MH370 are appearing, including one claiming that police have found that the captain of the missing Boeing 777-200ER was practising Indian Ocean landing field approaches including to the US Diego Garcia military base.

That report isn’t however as surprising as this in the EU Times claiming, among other things, that a secret cargo consignment on board had caused China authorities to plan to divert the Beijing bound flight with 239 people on board to one of its military fields, only to see it diverted by the US military toward the Indian Ocean.

Should such reports be dismissed out of hand? Arguably they shouldn’t, as there may be something in them that is true and relevant. The difficulty for readers who don’t sign up for conspiracy theories is in attempting to guess what is real, and what is unreal.

The MalayMail Online report is carefully qualified as to the claimed Indian Ocean data base on the MH370 captain’s sophisticated home made flight simulator. If that data base was found, it doesn’t necessarily prove anything. But the problem is that his flight is believed by authorities to have been deliberately diverted to an unknown destination, and that as Day 12 of the mystery begins, Australia is leading a very serious and increasingly well resourced search of the southern Indian Ocean.

There are a number of other well argued theories as to what happened to MH370 claiming that a fire or explosion created a crisis shortly after the ‘all right good night’ radio contact with the Malaysia Airlines flight was made at 1.19 am on Saturday 8 March early in its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Common to those theories is that the pilots struggled to get the flight back to Kuala Lumpur from where it had departed 39 minutes earlier, only to be overcome by oxygen starvation in the depressurized airliner, after which the jet flew on until its fuel was exhausted some time after 8.11 am local time when it sent its last electronic trace to a satellite providing communications services to airlines.

The theories are considered well argued by persons with airliner and operational experience. But they come with serious flaws. One such flaw is evidence that the jet flew a cleverly constructed course to minimise the risk of detection after Malaysia’s defence radar tracked it to a point near Phuket in Thailand.

The other is that a fire or explosion in an airliner would be so damaging to the fuselage and systems onboard MH370 that it could not continue to fly for at least another 6 hours 52 minutes as recorded by standby pings from the jet to an Inmarsat parking in geosynchronous orbit high above the western Indian Ocean.

The ability of MH370 to fly for the eight hours for which it carried fuel on departure would be very adversely affected by excursions in which it flew under the radar at low altitudes, or climbed to say 45,000 feet. It is known to have been in the air for a total of at least 7 hours 31 minutes, when the last satellite ping was recorded.

A report that a jet which may have been MH370 flew low over the Maldives on the morning of 8 March should be relatively easy to confirm or deny based on primary (non transponder) radar records before today is over.

For updates, visit Ben Sandilands’ Plane Talking blog.

This article was first published at Crikey.


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