Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MH370 - separating facts from speculation

Infographic from CNA - summarises the known facts about plane and the last electronic communication.

Points 1 to 5 just tells us what is known and all that happens along the intended flight path. Whatever else may have happened between point 1 to 5, it was along the intended path and it was not lost. It was only after point 5, that the plane's position and route becomes unclear. So ignore points 1 to 5.

Then point 6. RMAF radar finds an object in the sky, that they think is MH370. The radar by itself does not identify the object as MH370. It is an attributed "fact". We are not privy to their reasoning as to how they concluded that it was most likely MH370.

Curiously, Indonesia's military did not detect this "UFO" on their radar. Or maybe not.

When you have an unreliable "data" that is contradicted by undependable "data", you have to decide who to disbelieve.

I am going to discount the 2:15 radar blip because a) Indonesia does not corroborate the detection of the object, and b) even if Indonesia did confirm that such a UFO was there, the identity of the radar blip would not have been verified by either radar. That is, there is no proof that it was MH370.

So if point 6 is removed, all you have are a track from point 1 to 5, and the arc that is point 7. Joint the arc (of the North and South corridors), project the path of the plane, and the arc and the path intersects.

But, haven't the area been searched? I don't know. Maybe it had been searched, but they failed to spot the signs of the plane. Maybe I am wrong.

What is the alternative?

That the pilot and first officer conspired to "steal" a plane? They have no links to each other other than their job. Their pairing for this flight was routine and random. The news media has in fact suggested that their political views might well be opposed. One is an Anwar supporter, while the other has links to the political ruling party. In any case, no evidence of them being collaborators.

The "Hijacker" was a lone wolf, acted alone? No collaboration required? Sure, but then the hijacker needs to secure the cockpit for himself, while locking out anyone else. This is not impossible to do (non-hijacker leaves cockpit to use washroom. Lock door. Turn off transponder. Turn off ACARS. Done.) In this scenario, the hijacker than turns the plane to the west. Cuts across Peninsular Malaysia, into the Straits of Malacca and then veers northwards towards the Andaman sea and India.

Why? Why this complicated set of manoeuvres?

To avoid radar? To avoid detection? This would make sense in two scenarios. One, the plane is being stolen for future nefarious purposes (read future terrorist attack) and the terrorists needs extended access to the plane to customise it for terror - for example, they want to install a really big bomb, a biological weapon, or even a nuclear bomb. So the terrorists would have to steal a plane, fly it undetected, land it undetected, on a stolen airport, with a ground grew who can service the plane and re-prep the plane to fly again, refuel the plane, maybe even steal aviation fuel for the plane, and if the whole point of stealing the plane is so that they can customise the plane, then they need someone with the expertise to install a big bomb, or biological/chemical or even nuclear weapon.

Two, the "hijacker" is suicidal, but needs to cloak his suicide so his next of kin can claim insurance successfully.

If it is to hide the evidence of suicide in order to allow for insurance claims, were there any unusual insurance bought within the last year or last 2 years? Again, as the two main suspects with the skills to fly the plane in that manner are the flight crew, they just need to focus on those two.

But insurance information is not so complicated that it cannot be found, and insurance companies are just as eager to denounce such policies bought with the intent to defraud them.

So that is also a dead end.

Could the plane have been hijacked with the intent to land somewhere to be used later? The convoluted plan gets even more convoluted. Now in addition to stealing a plane, and trying to avoid detection, the hijackers/terrorists also have to steal an airport/airfield. In addition to learning how to fly a plane, they also have to learn how to store/hide a plane, maintain the plane, and refuel the plane (oh, yes, and steal aviation fuel, too). And the ground crew to maintain and refuel the plane? If they intend to re-configure the plane to, say carry a biological/chemical/nuclear bomb. Or some other even more convoluted enhancement - now they need to know how to build a X bomb, install it in a plane, and set it to detonate properly.

So... flying a plane into a building not effective enough? All that additional effort for... what?

Meanwhile, the hijacker has locked the other flight crew out of the cockpit. The crew and passengers would be trying to get into the cockpit to regain control of the plane. And the hijacker still flies on for another 6 hours? And the crew and passengers are unable to break into the cockpit after 6 hours?

Malaysia has in the past exhibited a persecution complex. During the Asian Financial Crisis (1998), Mahathir claimed that Malaysia's problems were because of a conspiracy by George Soros to harm Malaysia.

Even in this incident, the M'sian government has dismissed criticisms as "bullying" by the international media, or discounted complaints about inconsistency and confusion as biases arising only because the reporters wanted to see confusion.

Certainly, in some air crash, it will take time to find the aircraft, and if it was a straightforward crash and no foul play is involved, the plane should have been found by now.

The fact that it has not leads to three possibilities. One, the search coordinator is incompetent. Two, the searchers are incompetent. Three, the plane is not where it is supposed to be.

Is it any surprise that M'sia hops onto the conspiracy theory? And spins a convoluted web of theories and possibilities to explain a conspiracy theory?

This could break M'sia's international reputation and standing. If they are indeed right, and if the plane is indeed found in either the Northern or Southern Corridor, then they will be vindicated.

If, however, the plane is not found in either corridors, if the plane is eventually discovered along its original flight path (or very close off it), months or years later, then M'sia's handling of the situation, their analysis of data, and their whole management of the crisis will ridiculed.

But the most likely outcome of this incident at this point, is that the plane will not be found. The convoluted conspiracy tale is as unbelievable, incredible, and highly improbable. And I feel sorry for the pilot and First Officer whose names and reputation are being impugned with impunity by the M'sian authority and indirectly by the media. The scrutiny is as ridiculous as whether "All right, good night" has sinister undertones.

Of course, M'sia could be right, and I could be wrong. If M'sia has a persecution complex, I have a desire to persecute them for incompetence, melodrama, and a readiness to engage in half-substantiated conspiracy theories.

But if I am right, then their incompetence will mean that the relatives of 239 people will not have the answers they need, and the two flight crew will ever be under a cloud of suspicion, until the black box is found. 

[23 Mar update: M'sia had first stated that the flight management system (FMS - "autopilot") was programmed to divert from the Beijing flight path shortly after the last ACARS report at 1:07 am. And that they knew this because ACARS reported this change in the FMS route at 1:07. The sinister implication was that the pilot or co-pilot (or both), or someone experienced with the FMS had reprogrammed the autopilot to divert away from the original flight plans. And the fact that the co-pilot had not reported anything amiss in his last radio communication withe KL ATC, implicated him in the hypothesised plot. In their 23 Mar press briefing, M'sia said the ACARS did not report any change in flight plans, and the FMS was programmed for the flight to Beijing. M'sia's inconsistent facts, confusing updates, and frequent reversal of statements adds difficulty to an already complex and confusing problem. Perhaps much of the confusion is of M'sia's making. ]

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