The Malaysia Airlines 370 story keeps getting stranger… The latest in the New York Times:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has shifted to include anyone on board with a navigation or aircraft background in response to evidence that the plane was deliberately diverted from its route and, after communication was lost, navigated by someone with deep experience at the controls.

“In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia said at a news conference on Saturday.

This new phase of the investigation has brought new scrutiny to the lives of two people who certainly had those skills: the pilot and first officer, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, both Malaysian citizens — although neither has been declared a suspect in the plane’s disappearance. Investigators are also apparently searching the passenger list for anyone else with similar skills who might have rerouted the plane, willfully or under coercion.

During 9/11 and the immediate aftermath, U.S. intelligence was able to piece together fairly quickly who the hijackers were and establish their ties to al Qaeda, based on passenger manifests and phone calls from the hijacked planes. In this case, there have been no communications from the hijacked plane, so intelligence officials and presumably the media only have the passenger manifests to work with. If there is any conclusive proof that a passenger or crew member had means and motive to do something like this, it should turn up fairly quickly due to the considerable investigative resources being put into this by multiple governments and news organizations.

There is a long and infamous history of airplane hijackings around the world, with many of the most famous cases happening during the 1960s and 1970s. The tactical appeal of airplane hijackings can be summed up in two reasons: 1) mobility to go wherever the hijackers want, and 2) inaccessability and inescapability. Nobody will be able to storm a plane or try to get off it while it’s in the air – with exceptions to Steven Seagal and D.B. Cooper. The conventional wisdom of airplane hijackings – that the hijackers are taking hostages to achieve a rational political objective with an outcome that would ensure their own survival – was turned on its head by the events of 9/11.

If it was a hijacking, the deviation from the norm from hijackings of the past as of this writing is the lack of anybody claiming responsibility or making some type of political demand or other in exchange for the safety of the hostages. Assuming the Central Asia flight path theory is correct, that might help narrow the nationality or political agenda of possible suspects.

One scenario that I had considered a possibility – but has seemingly been ruled out at this point – is something akin to the Payne Stewart crash: that the aircraft lost cabin pressurization and kept flying off course until it ran out of fuel and crashed in the water somewhere.

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