Southeast Asia And Flight 370
I realize that by the time this column is published the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 and its passengers and crew March 8 may no longer be a mystery.
Regardless of where and when the plane or its wreckage is (was) found, the accumulation of events and non-events (important things left undone) in these early phases of the search have revealed the high level of government-to-government mistrust existing in Southeast Asia.
As a result of Malaysian officials holding essential information close to the vest, Thai Defense Forces’ apparent reluctance to reveal information about their radar track of the plane, and early Chinese secretiveness on its satellite capabilities, the first two days of the search effort based upon the plane’s planned route were futile; precious time was lost. It also added days to the uncertainties plaguing the families of the passengers.
Not until the release of the plane’s radar track showing the abrupt turn from its northward heading toward Vietnam to a west-southwestward heading did the search take into account the vast Indian Ocean and its littoral countries of South and Central Asia. Indeed, if one traces a track from the aforementioned turn point across the northern tip of Malaysia, across the last known radar fix in the Strait of Malacca and on into the Indian Ocean, the track goes unswervingly to the Maldive Islands. The Republic of the Maldives also is on the southern arc of the “search area probable” determined by the last satellite coverage, and the distance that could be flown with the fuel on board the 777 aircraft.
At 6:15 the morning after the aircraft was lost, several Maldivian residents on the island of Kudahuvadoo reported seeing a “big, white jumbo jet with red stripes,” which came roaring over them so low one said he could see “the outline of the doors in the sides of the airplane.” This was reported to the local police. The Maldives are an international luxury vacation destination, and its residents shown on the CNN report appear to be fairly sophisticated and believable.
However, the Malaysian acting transportation minister (and search coordinator) Hishammuddin Hussein says the head of the Malaysian Army contacted his Maldivian counterpart, and he denies any sightings of the plane in his airspace. But given the intrigue and unspoken agendas in this whole mess so far, it is easy to believe either the Malaysians or the Maldivians are hiding something, or just don’t want to be further involved. I suppose just by the nature of the beast, in too many cases pertinent information about the plane’s location would divulge too much information about military/surveillance capabilities.
Very soon after the plane turned toward the Indian Ocean, there were similar reports by Malaysian fishermen in the Strait of Malacca of an airplane so low “the running lights looked huge.” They actually reported the plane continued on and crashed into the sea, but they couldn’t pursue it because of high seas and low fuel.
Frankly, I’m surprised that neither the Maldive Islands nor Malacca Strait sightings have been taken seriously, at least with follow-up searches for debris.
Of course, most of us are familiar with the myriad of theories produced by armchair aviators, from highjacking by passengers with and without pilot complicity, to malfunction of the plane’s pressurization system, to some bizarre mechanical/structural failure that would cause the plane to drop off the radar instantly, to a burning nose wheel and the odor from which that would cause the pilots to switch off electrical equipment one unit at a time before being overcome by smoke.
As a one-time squadron safety officer investigating aircraft incidents and accidents, I can say that so long as there is no airplane, it’s like trying to solve a murder with no body.