But sudden interest in lowly CNN shows how much interest there is in the mystery--perhaps the strangest and most compelling since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart or the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.
Focus keeps shifting. For the past few days it's been on the flight crew. Information coming out on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah certainly does appear suspicious--that is, when digesting it after the fact. Pilots usually get blamed. Maybe he deserves to be the number one suspect.
Occam's Razor might support it. If reports are true that his political hero was the man jailed for five years earlier that same day and that his wife and children moved out of the house a day earlier, that certainly set up a frantic scenario for Captain Shah. Let's wildly speculate that he'd been fantasizing about taking off into the wild blue yonder by himself on his home Triple 7 simulator many times. The events of March 6 and 7 could have been the trigger.
But the devil is always in the details. If Captain Shah was responsible either he or First Officer Hamid would have had to retire down the cockpit hatch to the comms compartment under the floor to flip the breaker on the ACARS unit--the first piece of equipment disabled. It makes sense for Shah to have disabled First Officer Hamid, crawled down into the comms room and done it, then returned to the cockpit to sign off verbally with ATC then turn off the transponder. Another alternative--Hamid was not 'taken out' but was out of the cockpit in the bathroom, and Shah made it so he couldn't get back in.
But the Malaysians have added another twist. They claim the final verbal communications from the plane came from First Officer Hamid.
That means he was almost surely in or near the cockpit after the ACARS was turned off. It also means Shah was the "Pilot Flying" (PF), as the one not flying usually handles the radios. The transponder was reportedly turned off 14 minutes after Hamid's last verbal communication, and before they were to contact Vietnamese ATC.
This still might work, assuming Shah either made up an excuse to go down under the floor, then came back up and either allowed Hamid to sign off with Malaysian ATC or waited until he was done before reemerging and taking him out. If FO Hamid left the cockpit for the bathroom before Captain Shah tried to sneak down and flip the breaker he would be running the risk of having Hamid return early to find nobody at the controls and potentially question what the fark was going on. Yet he signed off rather calmly with Malaysian ATC. Fourteen minutes later the transponder was turned off and the wildness began.
If authorities could simply get rid of the above vexing distractions they could probably find a way to have Shah take out Hamid, flip off the cabin WIFI, don his oxygen mask and fiddle with the cabin pressure to take out all the passengers (as he ascended to over 40,000 feet), then turning left and diving back down and play a cat and mouse game with radar through the Malacca Straits. That would put him in the Indian Ocean, with two distinct directions of flight according to the satellite tracks--NW towards the Bay of Bengal or SW towards the open ocean.
Everyone keeps saying "why would he fly 7 hours to crash the plane?" I've said it too. But it's based on him being a terrorist, not a middle aged father/husband of strong political beliefs (and not radical Islam) who's just lost everything and has become suicidal. In such a scenario he might want the airplane flying long enough to 1) make it hard for his government, and everyone else, to find and recover, 2) make sure the Flight Attendants using emergency oxygen bottles (they would be the only ones left alive in the cabin) had run out of oxygen, and 3) make sure the CVR would run out of tape so as not to incriminate himself after the fact. He would likely want his family to receive any life insurance or other death benefits. So, he puts the aircraft on auto-pilot towards the southwest, takes off his oxygen mask, and goes to sleep with the rest of them. No need to be alive during the final terrifying plunge.
But again, with Hamid making the last transmission this scenario has become a bit more difficult. The earlier theory of terrorists disguised as ground crew hiding in the comms bay (entering the aircraft before the crew or passengers), who disable the ACARS (and maybe WIFI?) then burst through from under the floor and take over the cockpit 10 minutes or so after the last conversation, remains in play.
All rank speculation based on open source information and subject to change later today or in the next 10 minutes. And for all anyone knows the aircraft crash site has already been cleaned up by the Chinese or North Vietnamese.
SORTING OUT THE OPEN SOURCES 3/17/14
Pilots should laughingly point out the obvious error in the above speculation--the comms access hatch is NOT in the cockpit environs behind the locked door, it's in the cabin area behind the cockpit door. Should have confirmed this because it changes the wild speculation above. And let's face it, this is all just wild speculation so far. So like a fool, will try one more time.
Based on some supposed pilot feedback on forums the O2 may be able to be switched off from the circuit breakers in the below deck bay. Assuming this is the case, the hiding terrorists theory may still be valid. Let's say they first disabled the ACARS and a WIFI circuit, so the passengers who weren't sleeping but sitting there reading the internet couldn't suddenly tweet "hey, something is going on here", etc. That this did not happen has always been baffling and strongly suggestive of a catastrophic failure. A more deliberate event requires someone to either watch over every passenger and make sure they don't secretly send something or incapacitate them all with some kind of gas reminiscent of a Batman villain. Somehow, some way the passengers didn't have time to communicate (we've been told that cell phones were out of range at that altitude).
So, after the speculative terrorists switched off the innocuous ACARS and WIFI, which wouldn't raise any immediate suspicions, in the interim the FO in the cockpit acknowledges Malaysian ATC with 'goodnight'. Fourteen minutes later perhaps the breaker is pulled on the transponder and the O2 systems from the guys still hiding. Then suddenly they burst forth, wearing personal O2 masks, with small explosives to blow the cockpit door, enter, and there's a struggle as the pilots (who have donned their personal O2 masks while trying to ascertain the issue) are taken out. In the struggle the plane zooms to over 40,000 feet, disabling all but the hijackers. From there it's on to wherever.
But good Lord, would anyone believe a Tom Clancy novel like that? Isn't it more likely than one of the pilots was to blame? Or that the entire narrative is utter BS designed to cover up a Vietnamese or Chinese shootdown? Since I've long ago passed the point of rational speculation it's best to draw back and watch CNN.
I GIVE UP 3/17/14
This comment from the Malaysian officials solidifies the futility of speculating on this event:
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister and acting transportation minister, had made that assertion on Sunday, saying that the aircraft’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was disabled at 1:07 a.m. Saturday, well before the co-pilot’s verbal signoff. That appeared to point to possible complicity of the pilots in the plane’s disappearance.
But Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines, said at a news conference early Monday evening that the ACARS system had worked normally at 1:07 but then failed to send its next regularly scheduled update at 1:37 a.m., and could have been disabled at any point between those two times.
“We don’t know when the ACARS system was switched off,” he said. Mr. Ahmad Jauhari said the co-pilot’s verbal signoff was given by radio at 1:19 a.m., and the aircraft’s transponder, which communicates with ground-based radar, ceased working about two minutes later.Now the transponder stopped working only 2 minutes after the last signoff instead of 14. Why should anyone believe the crap they are spewing?
BEFUDDLEMENT UPDATE 3/17/14
The New York Times broke a story on Megyn Kelly's excellent Fox program tonight:
The first turn to the west that diverted the missing Malaysia Airlines plane from its planned flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was carried out through a computer system that was most likely programmed by someone in the plane’s cockpit who was knowledgeable about airplane systems, according to senior American officials.
Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials. The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before a flight. It is not clear whether the plane’s path was reprogrammed before or after it took off.That suggests a more deliberate turn designed to not aggravate the passengers without a sense of urgency. Evidently they know this by looking at radar tapes....you know, the same radar tapes they claim did not exist when this whole mystery began. Back then we were told it just disappeared off radar at 1:30am, which fueled the explosion theories.
Now they have tapes to suggest a broad sweeping turn was made to a 'waypoint' (navigational point in the air) which was LIKELY input via the FMS computer to be read and executed by the auto-pilot. Input by either one of the pilots or a very knowledgeable hijacker. Like of the 9/11 variety. In other words, if it was a mechanical emergency the captain flying would have done a more distinct u-turn and headed back to Kuala Lumpur. But we kind of already know this because the plane ended up in the Straits of Malacca according to the Malaysians own military radar and the ACARS one-way pings, a place where eyewitnesses claimed to have seen it.
So let's update. According to Malaysia Airlines the last ACARS report did occur at 1:07am (apparently it was unremarkable) but there was not another one at 1:37am. So somewhere along the way the system was taken out. The Malaysian government now reports that First Officer Hamid made the last calm, cool verbal communication with Malaysian ATC at about 1:20am. Then 2 minutes later the transponder blinked off (instead of the previously mentioned 14 minutes). What the Malaysians DO NOT say is the precise time the turn began. How long after the missed 1:37am ACARS report did this turn occur?
If it was only a matter of a few minutes this doesn't seem like enough time for hijackers to burst into the cockpit and take over, disable the pilots and make the course correction without bedlam in the cabin and people tweeting and instagramming and facebooking and cell-phoning. The hijackers would almost certainly have to be hiding in the comms bay, switching off electronic equipment, including the cabin O2, before rushing the cockpit. But of course they don't know precisely when the ACARS was switched off. It could have been 1:08am, a minute after the last scheduled report. But if the terrorists were dumping the O2 up to 12 minutes before the FO signed off to ATC, the cockpit would know about it via indications. All the electrical could not have been shut off before the final transmission or the FMS computer wouldn't have accepted the course correction. That's why shutting systems off methodically makes more sense.
It's still possible the pilot was down in the comms bay doing this while the FO was flying and making the last contact. Then after triggering the outages the pilot reentered the cockpit, took out the FO with a knife or some other sharp object, dumped the O2, made the course correction, all with little notice from the passengers or flight attendants. The terrorists hiding in the bay would have had to have dumped the O2 before coming up the stairs and taking over the cockpit, which might have involved blowing open the door, which would have alerted the passengers and flight attendants--unless they were already dead or unconscious. If such were the case the hijackers/terrorists were almost certainly state-trained intelligence operatives, not greenhorn religious kids trained by reading flight manuals in tents.
Of course every bit of the above could be erroneous and/or eclipsed by the next Malaysian press conference. Who knows what they might say next.