The mystery deepens

Saturday, 23 July 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Two years after the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines fight MH370, the debate is still on as to what happened to the aircraft. 

Both electronic and print media in Australia last week devoted time and space to discuss the ‘MH370 Mystery’. Many a theory has been put forward. Did the pilot deliberately put the plane down? Was the plane being hijacked? Why was the flight path changed? Did the plane have enough fuel to reach another destination? All these and more.

The basic issue to be solved is how, on 8 March 2014, did the ultra-modern Boeing 777 vanish without warning from the radar over the South China sea-route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board?

Devoting a full page the ‘Weekend Australian’ (5 March) had two interesting articles. One was titled ‘Rogue or romantic, pilot stays in picture’. The other said ‘Search for Malaysian jet all but a farce’.

The first article quotes a former Qantas manager of flight training and a veteran airline pilot named David Shrubb: “I surmised that the aircraft descended to a lower altitude and circled over Penang as the captain’s lover, or his rescuer lived there. He then set the auto pilot system to take the aircraft to the destination where he hoped the world would never find it. He then reduced speed and with his parachute, which he had put on board, opened an over-wing exit and jumped out. He had arranged to fall into water and that he would be picked up.” Is this a plausible story? 

Shrubb maintains that there have been instances when such an extraordinary plan had been executed before. In fact, in the popular TV series ‘Air Crash Investigations’ featuring true stories, such operations by pilots have been featured. These feature the co-pilot being away from the cockpit or being sent out by the pilot and locking the cockpit door so that the co-pilot cannot come back. 

As to why the MH370 pilot should do such a thing, Shrubb feels that he would have wanted to leave his wife – “quite a big deal for Muslims”. The aircraft being directed to one of the most remote and deepest corners of the seven seas, the southern Indian Ocean, he attributes to the fact that if the plane is ever found there, it would “show no captain on board and a door open”. 

The most popular theory among airline pilots and aviation experts is that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah hijacked his own aircraft and flew it right to the end, possibly as an act of protest against what is widely seen as the politically inspired prosecution of his relative and idol, Malaysian opposition figure Anwer Ibrahim. 

It has also been suggested that after the last turn south, the pilot depressurised the aircraft and sent himself and the others on board what in some respects is a relatively painless, even pleasant, death through hypoxia or lack of oxygen. 

A farce?

Saying that the search is “all but a farce” is Baron Bailey, a veteran commercial pilot with more than 45 years’ experience and 26,000 flying hours, a former Royal Australian Air Force pilot and trainer. He states that the ongoing search by four state-of-the-art vessels – three Dutch and one Chinese – with highly qualified crews has drawn a blank. 

As to why MH370 has not been found, he believes that it is because the search has been conducted too far to the north and east based on the theory by Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) of an unresponsive crew. “Under the rogue pilot scenario, and a controlled ditching, the plane would have been farther to the south and west when it entered the water,” he says. 

Writing at length on the search operation Baily adds: “Surely after two years, with the wind and currents, some items would have washed up somewhere. Only the flaperon has been found on Reunion Island, and a yet to be confirmed discovery this week on a Mozambique beach of some sheet metal, which has been flown to Australian for testing.”

“If MH370 is not found in the remaining few months and the search is suspended due to cost, which overall must be now more than $200 million of taxpayers’ money,  then MH370 will pass into legend like the ghost ship Mary Celeste. A movie will probably be made.”