The Two–Year Search for MH370

On March 8, it will be two years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur International Airport bound for Beijing and disappeared into the world’s greatest airplane mystery.

At 01:19.30, Captain Zahairie Ahmad Shah, a 33-year MAS veteran, passed the last Malaysian communications waypoint and replied “Good night, Malaysian three seven oh.” He never said hello to Thailand as was customary. Instead, he apparently turned hard to port and flew into dubious history, or somebody did.

Virtually every day, somewhere across Asia, people have said they have found bits of it. Thai villagers said they had found a chunk of the plane on Jan. 23. Malaysian supposedly found bits on Jan. 29. Captain Zahairie was said to have been found in Taiwan on Feb. 12. Vietnamese villagers said they found a chunk on Feb.11. None of the chunks have been identified as part of MH370.

Underwater cameras have searched 120,000 square km of the South Indian Ocean. But except for a piece of the wing called a flaperon, which was found last July on Reunion Island, a dot 200 km from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, MH370 might as well have been vaporized. Its 12 Malaysian crew and 227 passengers have disappeared.

The families of the missing refuse to give up, and they are deeply suspicious of the Malaysian government. Two groups have raised continuing questions about the search. The first is Voice 370, representing relatives of those on board the plane who issued a statement accusing the Malaysian government of denying them “existing rights in law, including also access to justice mechanisms.”

The second, MH370 China Families, has also scorched the Malaysians for failing to disclose information in a timely manner during the early weeks of the search, which was later taken over by a consortium of nations led by Australia.

Certainly the Malaysians have inadvertently fed that suspicion. They initially refused to release the full cargo manifest, raising suspicions that flammable materials such as lithium batteries might be aboard.

Although the craft was tracked by military radar as the plane made its inexplicable turn towards the Indian Ocean, that seemed to raise no suspicions from the Malaysian military, raising concerns both over the disappearance of MH370 and the Malaysian military’s attention to duty if a huge plane could pass through its airspace without being notices –instead, for instance, of an attacker.

The families insist the flaperon is not from the jet, that it didn’t show the kind of punishment that would have been inflicted by a year in the water and a float for hundreds of miles. They think MH370 was hijacked and flown northwest somewhere into Central Asia. Inmarsat data – the hourly pings from the Inmarsat satellite tracking data that famously followed it thousands of kilometers into the southern Indian Ocean was faked to cover the real trajectory of the plane, they say.

“There is no reason to trust the Malaysian authorities' claim that MH370 crashed in the South Indian Ocean,” said a spokesman for a group of 154 Chinese families of the missing passengers in a telephone interview. “We do not believe any of the theories of official statements starting from March 24, 2014.”

They believe the passengers and crew are being held somewhere unknown and by persons unknown and have called on 13 nations involved in the search, “either through their consular representatives, or directly to the senior officials,” to offer amnesty.

The spokesman declined to be named, saying attention should go to the families instead. The release of the Inmarsat data, he said, was delayed for two months while authorities “refined their lies” about the way it was doctored, adding that Malaysian authorities have no credentials of trustworthiness.

There was conflicting data over the altitude of the plane as it crossed over the Southeast Asian peninsula, giving rise to the theory that those aboard had been rendered unconscious as it rose above pressurization levels in the cabin and cockpit.

Although the families say they have access to an analysis showing why the Inmarsat data has been faked, the author won’t publish it while there is a risk to the passengers and crew from the hijackers, he says

“The evidence is it was deliberately diverted and deliberately evaded detection by turning off the transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. There is no evidence, other than the say-so of the Malaysian authorities and Inmarsat that it subsequently crashed.

“The search has been based on: if they are dead, how do we find them?” he said. “Instead, we argue: if they are alive, how do we reunite the missing and loved ones?

Sadly, despite the hope of the families, it is more likely that if they are ever found, it will be at the bottom of the South Indian Ocean. The only question is why.

The plane never issued a distress signal. None of the 227 passengers has been identified as connected to a cause or group that would be interested in hijacking the plane. The histories of the pilot and co-pilot have both been investigated exhaustively. There is nothing in their backgrounds that would have triggered a decision to either hijack the plane or deliberately crash it.

Speculation has centered on Captain Zahairie, who has been fiercely defended by his fellow MAS air crews, as the culprit. But the answer may never be known. With no clues besides the flaperon, which the families say is a fake, the search will probably be discontinued in June or so, when the four ships give up their current search of the bottom of the ocean, which is triangulated between Australia, Africa and Antarctica.

If MH370 went in, as the families refuse to accept, it is probably closer to Australia. It may have been flown in as carefully as US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320 which Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger flew into the Hudson River in New York in 2009 after a bird strike disabled both engines. Sullenberger set the plane down so gently that it remained completely intact, except for having an engine torn off. If MH370 went in that carefully – an astonishing feat in an open ocean – the floatable bits may have gone to the bottom with it. And there it may sit forever.

Or, according to an MH370 mystery maven named Jeff Wise, it could be sitting on Runway 24 on Yubileyniy Airport at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Or maybe not.