Saturday, March 22, 2014

Missing Malaysian Airlines MH370: Howdunit?

Editor (3/21/14): ITuesday's post, I predicted where the missing plane might be found, southwest of Australia. Then guest columnist, Mike H., gave us his character portrayal theory on who did it and and why. Today Mike and I go with "howdunit". There has been one common theme throughout this series; the most likely scenario is pilot suicide where the person piloting did not want the wreckage found. In recent days the search has focused on the area southwest of Australia on two pieces seen in satellite imagery. Based on our prediction, we feel that the search is in an area a bit north of where the plane is located. It is also possible that the debris will turn out to be unrelated to the missing plane. 

This article is purely the opinion of two people. But we strongly feel that this is the mostly likely theory, explains ALL the evidence made public so far and it closely matches our hypothesis on the motivation. We invite you to submit any thoughts you have on contradictions. 

Undisputed sequence of events (as of end of day 3/21/14)
  • 12:36am to 119am Co-pilot speaks to the air traffic controllers from taxiing until take off. Pilot does not say a word (based on transcript released today).
  • 109am ACARS system located at the back of the plane is turned off.
  • 119am Co-pilot signs off with "all right, good night".
  • 121am Two transponders accessible from the cockpit are turned off
  • Soon after, radar shows a turn and climb.
  • Radar shows rapid descent to 20K feet
  • Plane is tracked in one of two common passenger routes
  • Eight hours later, final ping is sent by plane.
Initial actions

Suicides are rarely planned by more than one person. The fact that the circuit breaker in the back of the plane was turned off while the co-pilot was talking to tower strongly suggests that we can rule him out. Since the cockpit door is locked, we strongly feel it was the captain or the flight engineer responsible. After the co-pilot finished his final sign off with ground control, he and the other person not responsible, left the cockpit for one of two reasons.
  1. A restroom break or other normal activity.
  2. They were told by the person flying to do something; get a glass of water, go to the back to check on the ACARS circuit breakers or other. 
At that point the cockpit door was locked and no one else except the person responsible would ever gain entry to that area. The pilot then returned to his seat and turned off the two transponders. Records show that the transponder was turned off two minutes after the final sign off. So things happened quite quickly, but there was enough time.

The murder

Radar records show that the plane then turned abruptly and started gaining altitude to 45,000 feet. There has been some speculation that this initial turn and climb was to avoid radar. We agree that the turn was due to avoid entering Vietnamese airspace and also to get to the final destination which will be discussed later. Also climbing to 45,000 feet would have minimized the odds of anyone using a cell phone to call for help. But the sudden gain in altitude was more sinister and diabolical in nature. If the two flight crew who left returned to the cockpit to find it locked they would have quickly found a way to use a satellite phone, turn the ACARS circuits back on the in the tail or find another way to alert authorities. Following our hypothesis of suicide with no trace, this gain in altitude was to quickly kill everyone on board. To do that the pilot would had to do the following:
  1. Depressurize the plane (yes, a pilot can do this for reasons such as if the oxygen supply system became noxious).
  2. Depressurize the plane. This would release oxygen masks for everyone including inside the cockpit; depressurizing the plane depressurizes the cockpit.
  3. Put on his oxygen mask. 
  4. Gain altitude rapidly. Passenger oxygen masks only have a fifteen minute supply of oxygen. At 45,000 feet the air is not breathable and a person without oxygen would be dead in less than a minute. 
The person piloting would have more than 15 minutes in his oxygen supply but would also have access to the two other oxygen masks in the cockpit, so would have been alright for up to 45 minutes to an hour. The standard 15 minute supply is designed to give the pilot the time necessary to descend to below 20,000 feet where the air is easily breathable.

It is also possible that someone in the main cabin was able to use more than one oxygen masks, but it was a fairly full flight with 239 seats taken. Plus one is not mobile when tied to an oxygen mask. Trying to break down the fortified cockpit door or go to the back of the plane without oxygen would have been impossible. After some time at 45,000 feet, the pilot would have descended to below 20,000 feet as radar records have shown it did. 

At this point he continue to fly west following standard flight paths. This step was important because he was still close to Malaysia and military radar would have paid less attention to a radar screen blip that was flying in a typical passenger flight pattern. There was a Singapore Airlines plane flying in a similar direction and it is possible the pilot shadowed this plan for a period.

Flying to the remote

Once he knew he was safely out of range of Malaysian radar, he started flying south and set the speed and altitude to levels to maximize the distance plan could fly. The ocean SW of Australia and North of the Antarctic is as foreboding and remote as it gets. No land, extremely cold, high waves, strong ocean currents, limited shipping and deep water. There is no better place on earth which is more remote or where it would be harder to mount a salvage and recovery option.

It is possible that during this time the person flying might have gone into the cabin to disable emergency beacons and equipment. But it is unlikely he would risk the chance of opening the cockpit door just in case someone was still alive. Also the thought of calmly walking through a plane full of dead people is so horrifying and morbid, it is beyond our comprehension.


Once he got as far south as possible and the plane was running on fumes, the pilot would have landed as gently as possible. There was no reason to crash into the water at high speed leaving debris strewn everywhere where it would be spotted by plane or satellite. Also by having everyone on board dead, there was no chance of emergency doors being opened or life rafts being deployed. An intact passenger jet would have floated for 30 to 60 minutes before sinking. By flying until his fuel practically ran out he also minimized any chance of oil slick. The plane sank into the sea and the captain went down with his ship. It is possible that wings or other large parts of the plane broke off as it settled and that would explain the large pieces of debris seen by the satellite. 

Final thoughts

Whoever was responsible planned well. He picked a fairly full flight which was important to limit how long passengers would survive and an overnight flight where people would have been sleeping, chose the perfect time within the flight when the cockpit would be quiet, and the time of day with radar crews paying less attention and limiting the likelihood of ground or ship based witnesses seeing the plane.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Whodunit? Whydunit? Why Captain Shah is likely responsible for the missing Flight MH370

Editor: In Tuesday's post, we focused on where the plane might be found. Based on the news today that wreckage might have been spotted southwest of Australia, the prediction appears to be correct. Today we go from "wheredunit" to "whodunit" and "whydunit". Tomorrow we end the trifecta with "howdunit" (view article). To help with the analysis I turn the floor over to my guest author and fellow armchair criminologist, Mike H. 

Why Captain Shah is likely responsible for the missing Flight MH370

--by Mike H. (guest author)

‘‘...sacrifice is necessary to achieve the goal of free democracy.’’ - 2013 Facebook Post by Zaharie Ahmed Shah, Captain MH 370

In this thought experiment, we examine the likely possibility that a pilot, specifically Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is the "mastermind" of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370. It is important to point out obviously, that all judgments should be reserved until a final determination is made by authorities. We simply conclude that this is likely a politically motivated crime pointing to Shah as the prime suspect. We cannot yet conclude whether or not he acted alone. However, signs point to him as architect of the plot. Here's why.
Much speculation and worry has been expended as to the fate of the missing Malaysian airline. There are few facts, but many theories circulating. Let's try to convince you that at this time evidence strongly points to the plane's captain, Shah, conclusively as having the motivation and the personality profile to carry out this crime. This analysis will use a principle of parsimony, meaning that if there are many hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. It's most likely that Shah acted alone and that his cockpit seniority and work habits would allow him the greatest ease to accomplish this of any of the other passengers or crew. However, plausible scenarios also exist where he could have had collaboration from a sympathizer onboard the plane making it easier to secure control and subdue passengers as well as provide some technical support for the complicated flight. 

Personality Profile

It has been suggested that Shah is a loyal employee, a caring community citizen, a good friend, and a good father. Certainly, looking into the eyes of the man, we can see a definite kindness. His online postings indicate a thoughtful, secular man, personally invested in supporting a positive future for Malaysians through positive democratic action. Nobody would call this guy a zealot; in fact Slate magazine suggested his support of Malaysian opposition political leader Anwar Ibrahim indicated he was a rationalist, possibly even atheistic. This guy's no terrorist, and in fact he's quite the western-culture buff, and loves stuff like comedians Louis CK and Eddie Izzard. That said, rationalists are by no means universally kindhearted as the Slate article implies. I would argue that rationalists have a tendency to weigh the many over the few, especially when it comes to political causes; and I would suggest also (importantly I think), that while quite hilarious, many mainstream comedians are unarguably some of the most rational, yet misanthropic folks out there. 
We see a smart guy with a high degree of career achievement and distinction who loved assembling complex home computers, building even more complex flight simulators, tinkering with machines and efficiency, and preparing elaborate meals of carefully prepped ingredients and final colorful products for his friends and family. He loved building things, engineering, and understanding how they worked. This shows his personality is a "systems thinker" or "mastermind" type of individual. This crime has all the hallmarks of a carefully constructed plan, much like Shah's flight simulator, or his delicious meals. None of these things paint him as a killer, but he is the type of person with a mental "blueprint" capable of crafting a multi-layered plot such as this. 

Possible Motivations

1. Dissatisfaction with Malaysian government and retaliation over the conviction and imprisonment of Ibrahim. It has been widely reported that Shah's Facebook page contained numerous critical references towards the Malaysian government in regards to the treatment of Ibrahim. In addition there are conflicting reports that indicate he attended the trial and sentencing of Ibrahim right before the flight. It has also been reported that Shah and Ibrahim are distant relatives, but there seems to be consensus they did not know one another. What is clear and not in dispute is that Shah was a supporter of Ibrahim's politics and saw the Malaysian power elite's treatment of him as unjust and hypocritical. There is considerable evidence to support the notion that he closely identified with the politics of Ibrahim and was happy to make public testimony to that effect.
2. Alleged marital discord and potential separation from spouse with multiple news sites suggested that Shah's wife had left him in the days preceding the fated flight. Without a family support structure at home, Shah was more likely to engage in fatalistic behaviors. At the very least, a spouse leaving a home may be indicative of a declining mental state or other instability. In any case, this is a motivation because it cuts his social "safety net" to some extent. It is also a motivation for him to have carried this act out with no suicide note or other telltale admission so that his family is not vilified in the media and may further be eligible for financial compensation if he cannot be proven at fault. 
3. For a career aviator; to be a part of a great mystery in the vein of Amelia Earheart is somewhat of a romantic notion to get carried away with. No doubt, this is already one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time today. 
Other Suspects

It's quite possible that Shah acted alone. However, at this time it is not possible to rule out co-conspirators that could point to a more conspiratorial plot. Too little is known to make a judgment about what exactly happened inside the plane, and that is speculation for a future "Howdunit" article. 

To minimize the length of this article the full personality profiles of the two others in the cockpit are not included.  In summary:

Co-Pilot Abdul Hamid: Hamid has had the most suspicion cast on him because he was the last person to speak with air traffic control and the transponders in the cockpit were turned off only two minutes later.  This is still plenty of time for him to leave the cockpit and be locked out by Shah. And his personality profile does not suggest he had the planning experience needed to pull off something this complicated. He was a young guy and we hear nothing of his hobbies, other than trying to pick up hot girls. While a skilled aviator himself, apparently led a more domestic life with fewer notable extracurricular activities of this nature.
Flight Engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat: I will be surprised if the flight engineer is involved. He has a new wife, child, and good job. He is considered an "excellent employee" by his manager. His ten year experience is not in Boeing aircraft, but smaller jets like Learjet. I don't think the flight engineer had the capability to act on his own because os a lack of piloting skills. followed by him collaborating with the co-pilot, I feel a larger conspiracy is unlikely. However Malaysian authorities are currently investigating any role Selamat may have played.

The Aftermath

In the wake of the disappearance, one thing has been without question. The Malaysian government is under fire for their perceived haphazard, and blundering response to the crisis. The Chinese public and government have expressed continued great displeasure; and the patience of the world is wearing thin. The crisis has cast a bright light onto the nature of Malaysian politics and it has not necessarily portrayed the institutions favorably. Tensions have escalated recently with neighbors including Indonesia too. The Malaysian government is really in the hot seat right now.  This is a position they have never been in more than 50 years in power. One might wonder if this is exactly what Shah had hoped for; that his knowledge of the Malaysian emergency response and lax control procedures pointed to the chaos that would ensue if a plane leaving Malaysia were never found. Especially one loaded with the citizens of a powerful global player like China. In this sense, everyone has been wondering on motive, but it seems the motive is pretty clear based on the cause and effect here... 

Logical Argument why this is a "plot" and not a "co-incidence": 
To be fair, we are perhaps poorer armchair chaos theory buffs than we are armchair criminologists. However, please consider this expansion on the thought experiment we are conducting for a moment:
Chaos vs Synergy: 
The Malaysian Airlines mystery reeks of synergy and careful planning as opposed to the chaotic series of events that define most accidental air disasters. Chaos is random, fractal, non-linear -- a fire randomly happening here, an engine failing there... rarely do "accidents" happen so sequentially so as to provide the scant evidence and information that is available about the flight. For several communications systems to fail, for the plane to stop reporting location, for it to change location, to climb so many feet above operating specifications, for it to report pings ranging across Asia and into the deep Indian Ocean, under such reportedly expert flying mechanics -- this is a linear, organized sequence of event and it is beyond reason to assume that these things may happen as an accident. It's also unreasonable to assume given what we know that any other terror element had anything to gain from killing of so many except someone with strong left-leaning political views. Look at the consequences of this carefully planned mystery on the Malaysian government. It's just not probable that anyone but a pilot -- and a Malaysian one at that -- is responsible for this.  
Back to chaos vs synergy. In  regards to this case, as we know, rarely does nature create perfect shapes or geometrically precise patterns. If we look at chaos from its fractal perspective, lets consider that synergy might exist as a geometrically precise shape captured in that fractal. It must be a closed loop like an excellent machine or a master plan. If we consider synergy and chaos in this way, lets also assume that synergy is therefore an unnatural, artificial creation of intelligence, while chaos is the natural and unbounded way nature works.
Considering the Malaysia disaster -- it has such a synergy to it -- the construction of a perfect plan with many parts working together to deliver a closed loop outcome. It is a set of circumstances unlikely to have happened chaotically. Clearly it is the product of man's construction, and the evidence points to the pilot or pilots as being responsible, and again signs point to Shah as a motivated systems thinker capable of crafting a well-oiled plot like this.  


Of all possible scenarios suggested and possible suspects, only Shah had the combination of technical skill, personal motivation, and mental schema needed to plan and execute an act of this magnitude without venturing beyond parsimony. The disappearance has achieved a plausible political goal already which is being widely reported in the news media (though it is not being connected directly as an intentional side effect of this disappearance). 

Editor 3/24/14: It was reported today that the FBI is now focusing their investigation on Shah and his complex personal life and has found nothing suspicious in Hamid's background.  

Editor 3/21/14: Please see the new article on how exactly the sequence of events transpired matching all evidence presented to date.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Where to Search for the Missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 Plane

Like most of us I spent the last week closely following the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 jet. Crazy theories abound; UFOs, Bin Laden loyalists, selling the plane for its resale value of $40 million and kidnap ransoms. All those seem really unlikely; there are easier ways to make $40 million than kidnapping 250 people.  And if someone really wanted to steal a plane why not commandeer a cargo plane where there are few people on board.

To come up with my theory I dismissed the possibility of catastrophic failure which has been ruled out and looked at the following key facts:

1. The plane flew 8 hours.  If the pilot wanted to just kill himself, why not just make it quick and get it over with. 
2. India and Pakistan say the plane didn't go that way.  Both nations swear that no airplane crossed their coverage.  Have to take this with a grain of salt, because neither would admit holes in their radar coverage. But Afghanistan is in the vicinity and I have to believe that the US military keep track of mosquitoes flying anywhere near that area.
3. Serious piloting skills were necessary. Multiple screens of the passenger manifest has ruled them out. And let's also rule out the idea that Steven Seagal's twin brother was hiding out in the luggage compartment.
4. Black boxes transmit for 30 daysAfter 30 days they stop transmitting and the likelihood of finding plane starts dropping.
5. Meticulous planning was required. Whoever piloted the plane made evasive maneuvers to go undetected.

So drawing upon Occam's Razor "most likely scenario" thinking, it had to be pilot suicide.  One of the pilots, and I don't really care which one, decided that he wanted to go out in a way that would make the plane extremely hard to find.  Hard to find would be important for one of three reasons:

1. Following the money trail, he wanted his next of kin to cash out on some life insurance policy or death benefit, but knew that they wouldn't get anything if the plane and those pesky black boxes were ever found.
2. Suicide and taking the lives of innocent folks would bring dishonor to his clan.
3. He wanted to join Amelia Earhart in folklore.  

How would he do it?

Scenario 1In February/March, the Antarctic ice sheet is at the thinnest.  It is at the maximum width in September.  So if he could crash the plane where the ice had retreated, it would soon be covered up until a year from now. After six months of fruitless searching, the plane would be very hard to find. There is no radar down there, no cities, few ships, a moving ice field that would make salvage operations very difficult.  But there's one huge hole with this theory; the plane didn't have enough gas.  Experts are saying the plane had a 5,000 mile range since it flew 7-8 hours; and would have to had to fly 7,000 miles or 11-12 hours to get there. 
Antarctic Ice

Scenario 2. Okay, so he couldn't make it to the Antarctic, but perhaps he decided to go with the next best option.  In the diagram below we see major ocean currents with the surface current, denoted in red. The one that flows left to right right above Antarctica is of the most interest to me.  If he flew straight down for eight hours he could have made it there. Crashing the plane in that area would result in evidence drifting east in an area that few ships ply.  Eventually debris would show up in South America but by then the black boxes would have long stopped working. 

Global Ocean Currents
Where to Look?

So using scenario #2 I would fly planes directly over the current and have ships sail in the middle of the current to detect the black box signal.  If debris was spotted, determining the speed of the current and multiplying by the amount of days since the crash would give you a rough idea of where the wreckage lay.

So that's it; a plausible scenario that matches all the data points I am aware of. Please let me know of any holes you see.

Editor 3/21/14: Please see today's article on how the sequence of events might have transpired based on all evidence presented to date.