It is now almost a week since Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing apparently vanished over the South China Sea, less than an hour into its journey. But no trace of the Boeing 777 has yet been found. That it is not easy to hide the presence of an object of this size has not been lost on the authorities supervising search operations. And now has come a new twist in the affair.
Still missing: Boeing 777 9M-MRO
When MH370 appeared to drop off the radar, it was heading north west, and would have passed over Vietnam before overflying the Chinese mainland. But in the past few days, there have been strong suggestions that not only did the 777 not crash into the South China sea, but that it was turned to the west and flown on, with its transponder (perhaps deliberately) switched off.
What the civilian radar saw ...
Hence the search area being extended to include the Malacca Straits. But this could not have happened without the intervention of someone who knew how to fly a 777. So one or other of the pilots, whether under duress or otherwise, or someone else with relevant experience aboard the plane, must have flown it onwards. This suggests hijack, perhaps by its own crew.
... with military radar additions
Military radar reports are suggesting that MH370 flew more or less due west from Waypoint IGARI after disappearing from the civilian radar, and then via Waypoints VAMPI and GIVAL, ultimately reaching Waypoint IGREX in the Andaman Sea. This is why the USA has sent warships into that area. It also suggests that whoever was at the controls was an experienced pilot.
Where the aircraft went after Waypoint IGREX is not clear: the 777 had enough fuel on board to reach Beijing, so could have continued until well over India. A problem for media outlets is that data from Boeing and engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce is being treated as confidential, as the episode is being treated as an Air Crash Investigation. So we may not know the full picture for some time.
The Andaman Islands, part of Indian territory, have airports easily capable of handling a 777. But you don’t just land one of those on the fly without someone noticing. Moreover, if the aircraft was hijacked, it would be difficult to prevent every one of the passengers from using their mobile phones, which would give the game away immediately. So it’s still looking like a crash.
And that is before any motive is considered: there are “unconfirmed reports” that the Captain’s house has been raided. The First Officer is alleged to have previously allowed tourists on to the flight deck in contravention of airline rules. But no group has claimed responsibility for a hijacking, so all we can do is wait. Meanwhile, the 24-hour news speculatron remains fired up.
The search has been a long one. But it may be coming to an end very soon.