Since disappearing off the radar in the Gulf of Thailand March 8 on a redeye flight 1:30 a.m., Malaysian Flight MH370 has fueled wild speculation and a frantic search over millions of square miles from Kazakhstan to furthest reaches of the Indian Ocean. Families of the crew and passengers are at the breaking point with Malaysian authorities reluctant to hazard a definitive answer to the flight’s disappearance until they possess concrete facts, like plane’s wreckage. Suggestions by 82-year-old New Corp’s Chairman Rupert Murdoch that the Boeing 777 and it passengers are tucked away secretly in Pakistan have given hope to exasperated families but offer only more wild speculation. Frantic search-and-rescue efforts centered on the most remote parts of the Indian Ocean, some 1,500 nautical miles from Perth, Australia. Recent Chinese satellite images produced hopeful sightings of flotsam, somewhere in the conceivable path of the ill-fated jet’s trajectory.
Showing an image of an object some 22 meters [72 feet] by 13 meters [43 feet], Chinese officials have dispatched reconnaissance planes and ships to the region in hopes of recovering remnants of the downed airliner. “The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify,” said Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, raising hope of something concrete. Past sightings have proved to be miscellaneous trash swirling around the vast ocean’s currents. No objects found in Chinese satellite imagery have been found by Australian or New Zealand authorities with assets in the area. Australian Maritime Safety spokeswoman Andrea Hayward indicated that the large objects in the Chinese satellite images have not been found. New Zealand search teams have only found seaweed in the 36,000 square kilometers [14,000 square miles] search area.
Whatever the Chinese satellite images found, it’s possible typical flotsam found in the world’s polluted oceans. Everyone wants answers to the 64 meters [209 feet] long, 61 meter [199 feet] wingspan and 6.2 meter [20 feet] wide fuselage of the missing Boeing 777 jetliner. Recent speculation has centered on a mechanically disabled plane with all passengers and crew asphyxiated, flying on its own until the fuel ran out in what’s called a “zombie plane.” Other theories had the plane hijacked either by terrorists onboard or its own flight crew. Malaysian officials have been slow to investigate the Flight MH370’s captain, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, whose flight simulator raised eyebrows. Malaysian authorities working with the FBI confirmed recently deleted files on his flight simulator, fueling speculation about any ties to terrorists or other nefarious groups. Two Iranian passengers with stolen EU passports were high-value suspects.
Malaysian authorities looked into the backgrounds of Capt. Shah’s 27-year-old First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, other passengers and two Iranians with stolen EU passports, 19-year-old Pouria Nourmohammadi and 29-year-old Seyed Mohammad Reza Delavar. While authorities haven’t yet tied any crew or passengers to terrorists, there’s plenty of speculation about the way Flight MH370 apparently turned off the plane’s transponders when the flight went missing. While there’s no way to confirm what happened on the flight, analyzing the backgrounds of crew and passengers could shed some light on what happened before any wreckage or the “black-box” flight data recorders can be found. Commenting about the deleted files on Capt. Shah’s personal flight simulator raises real suspicions despite offering no proof. Just the presence of the flight simulator raises red flags. When you add to that recently deleted files, it only looks worse.
While there’s nothing wrong with finding the wreckage or flight data recorders, less emphasis on human factors has lost precious time figuring out the probable cause of what happened March 8 at 35,000 feet. Spending more time on the backgrounds of passengers and crew can yield more information than searching for the wreckage. When you consider that Capt. Shah deleted files from a flight simulator raises serious red flags. His involvement with incarcerated Muslim opposition leader Anwar Ibrihim also raises concerns, much like the link between Fort Hood army psychiatrist mass killer Maj. Abdel Malik Hasan and Yemen-based al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan murdered 13 Fort Hood soldiers Nov. 5, 2009 before deployment in an act of Islamic jihad. Whether admitted to or not at the time, Hasan was radicalized by al-Awlaki before his rampage. More human factors research could yield some answers on Malaysian Flight MH370.
New French satellite images raise hopes but offer little insights into the key players on Malaysian Flight MH370. When you consider at least two passengers with stolen EU passports and that Capt. Shah had a personal relationship with incarcerated Malaysian opposition leader Ibrihim, it’s plausible that Shah had connections to radical Islam. When MH370 changed course March 8, dropped off the radar and flew across Malaysia, there’s reason to believe that foul play, not mechanical breakdown or “zombie flight” caused the plane to deliberately veer off course. Blaming Malaysian authorities for botching the investigation ignores the fact that most search-and-rescue efforts have been spent on locating the wreckage and “black boxes,” ignoring important human factors research into all the key players involved in Malaysian Flight MH370. Whatever happens with the search, Malaysia authorities need to let FBI profilers shed some light on what really happened.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com. and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.