A mild speculation on flight MH 370:
I know nothing about the matter except from what I read, but there is something odd about this flight that took off.

The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, signed off with its departure flight control routinely and then vanished.  Information has been coming in sporadically for more than 3 weeks and the grief and frustration of those with loved ones aboard has been great.  Nobody knows what happened.

I shall hazard a guess from what I have learned, mostly from an article in the ECONOMIST.  After the signoff, the planes transponder – which routinely transmits the craft’s identity, altitude and in effect its location to the ground control people – stopped transmitting.  The plane never communicated with ground control in the next country on its itinerary.  Everybody wants to know what happened.

I think it would be fair to break it down to human agency on the one hand and mechanical failure on the other.  This airplane, a Boing 777 is said to be the safest in the world, and pilots are closely watched.  The probability of an event including both human agency and mechanical failure is so remote it must be dismissed. 

But there were some more clues.  For one thing military radar followed the flight (after the fact) and found that it had turned west, far from its intended course.  The point where it was lost is near a waypoint, a sort of intersection in the sky.  We are then told it must have turned either along a north bound corridor into Asia or a south bound corridor into the Indian Ocean.  But it had been traced to a point that was already to the west of those two routes.  So for this to be a mechanical problem that put it onto what is considered the most likely route there must have been a turn west to the last radar contact, a burn back east to the waypoint or one of the corridors and a turn onto the corridor.  In addition there is evidence, rather shaky, of two altitude changes and one change of speed.  This makes six maneuvers.  That’s too many for a single breakdown.

So we are left with human agency.  Somebody may have taken unauthorized control or made an unauthorized decision.  And that happened in the apparently short interval between the signoff and the turn to the west.  Assuming human agency there is still the problem of why the changes course, altitude and speed.  A pilot does not overshoot a waypoint but rather turns just a bit before it; that’s faster, cheaper, safer and easier.  So the conclusion seems to be that there was in fact no aggressive turn to the south; the aircraft continued west, probably below radar and perhaps low enough to have ground effect, which is where the plane is low enough so that the air below it is compressed between the wings and the water or the land and extends the plan’s range.  That’s more or less below the altitude equal to the wingspan.  This is most difficult to do but does make sense.  There are places close to or within the extended range where the political situation is turbulent.  The plane could have landed and been hidden.

Had it spent the day in the open it is hard to imagine that it would not have been seen, and a bunch of blue tarps turning up big enough to hide it would have been conspicuous.  The hiding place had to be prepared perhaps months in advance.  In that case finding it would be a monumental but not impossible task.

There is another clue.  They know the plane flew for hours because a satellite received regular “handshake” “pings” from one of the engines, something related to maintenance and oddly only from the one engine.  The intensity of the signals and more accurately the Doppler shift in the frequency gave a certain amount of information about the planes radial distance and rate of radial approach or withdrawal from the satellite.  However unless there was specially designed equipment those values would not say anything about its direction from the satellite.  Maybe if the plane had passed close beneath the satellite it would have been possible to say something about how close it passed, but the satellite was geostationary above the equator, so a large number of courses would have taken the plane radially away from the receiver.  And since they are unsure of the plane’s altitude and speed a lot of uncertainty remains. 

The plane may have sped up.  That makes sense if it was flying west and trying to make landfall before daylight.  The ping occurred hourly except for the last one, which occurred just a few minutes after the next to last.  Maybe that was when the engine was switched off and the plane was delivered to its captors. 

If the plan was to use the 777 for some destructive purpose they ran into operational problems.  If the plan was to strike some target, that would only require refueling.  That may not have gone well or the strike would already have happened.  Or perhaps they intended to modify the craft into a weapon.  That would have taken some time but they could hardly have planned to spend more than a week at it; discovery was always going to be a threat.  I imagine they have been discovered and some sort of action has been taken or is still underway.  One can still pray for a rescue, and if it happens I’m sure we’ll hear about it.  Otherwise I think we shall never know.

Meanwhile they continue to scour the Indian Ocean for wreckage.  If some turns up I am prepared to eat my words.  It may have been a catastrophic mechanical problem and the puzzling moves may have been the pilot trying to bring his stricken bird home, as the experts hint.  But I would much prefer to be right and for the rescue to be carried out. 

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