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.

Landing

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.

48 comments:

  1. Interesting theory, and entirely plausible. I didn't realize the 777 had a flight engineer, though. Are you certain about that?

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    1. Yes, there was a flight engineer on board named Mohd Selamat. He is also being investigated but has not got much press.

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    2. Thanks for the clarification.

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    3. Flight engineers went out with the 747-200. 777 does not have them. Sometimes will have a 2nd officer (pilot) on board but not for shorter trips. This flight had Mohd Selamat an aircraft engineer who didn't even work for MAS and was travelling to Beijing to fix a private jet. i doubt he knew anything about the 777 except the stuff any good aircraft engineer would know.

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    4. This is the article from a UK publication where I pulled the flight engineer information from: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/malaysia-airlines-plane-mh370-missing-jets-flight-engineer-under-investigation-1440683

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. Although you found an article about a flight engineer, I can tell you (as somebody has already) A boeing 777 DOES NOT have them. Flight engineers are a dying breed but you will find them on older aircraft such as the 747-200 which back in 2004 was still in use by some regional airlines in Japan.
      The gentleman referred to in the article was traveling as a passenger not part of the crew. See the following link; http://news.asiaone.com/news/malaysia/missing-mh370-flight-engineer-aboard-missing-plane-allegedly-under-probe

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  2. Informative and morbid.

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  3. Interesting hypothysis. But, you said the ACARS system was located at the back of the plane. Who turned them off? You're saying that "the murderer" found a reason to leave the cockpit, stroll among the passengers all the way to the back of the plane, and switch off a circuit without anyone thinking that was an odd behavor? Was there no warning in the cockpit that that circuit was disabled? That just doesn't seem likely to me.

    And if the murderer also wanted to commit suicide why take all those other people with him or her? And there has to be an easier way to do it then commendeering a multimillion dollar plane with over two hundred people on board. And then safely landing in a remote part of the ocean to drown himself? He could have done that in a backyard swimming pool. Or a less painful way to off yourself would be a bullet to the head.

    With all due respect sir, I don't think murder/suicide fits. At least without a motive. And there doesn't seem to be one. Just my humble opinion.

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    1. The ACARS circuit system is located at the back of the plane in an area accessible only by crew.Yes, I am suggesting that one of the crew went back there. I think we have all been on flights where one of the pilots has walked through the aisles. And at 1am in the morning I doubt too many folks would have raised concern. As far as motivation, read the second article Mike H. posted on this blog two days ago about one possibility.

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  4. Certainly an interesting hypothesis. The questions I would raise would be 1. the prevailing information is that the change in course was preprogramed prior to the 1:19am sign off, wouldn't the co-pilot have noticed this change being made if in the cockpit? 2. At the point the co-pilot would have needed to leave to make this possible, he would have been about to make his sign on to air traffic in Vietnam, I dont think he would readily leave his post at that time. Also if the pilot or co-pilot needed something at that time wouldnt someone else from the flight crew have obtained it?

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    1. Thanks Anonymous, this is Mike H - it is possible that the copilot's inexperience coupled with the senior pilots authority and reputation for competence and responsibility would have meant that the copilot may not have noticed small technical modifications being made. In fact it would fit with our theory as we have suggested that the pilot left the cockpit to disable some equipment prior to returning to the cockpit and the copilot uttering the fated last words.

      We think that the reporting in the media of lax cockpit security protocol and SOP (copilot having unauthorized guests in cockpit, cockpits on Malaysia Air being routinely left unlocked when underway, etc) suggests that it is not out of the realm of possibility. Shah could have come back after disabling equipment, sat there while the final transmission was relayed, told the copilot to get him a drink or that there was a hot woman among the passengers, or to go to the bathroom, or any number of things which the pilots authority and lax procedures may have allowed.

      In the US, I think it is apparent that the security protocols for flights would probably never allow something like what we have proposed to happening. But with what we know about the captains reputation for excellence, the copilots lax observation of safety protocol and relative inexperience opens a door for this to remain the most plausible of solutions.

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  5. The pilot was a very social guy. He did fundraisers for poor kids, was universally well like by everyone who publicly commented, enjoyed his hobbies, and was upper-middle-class with multiple houses and expensive toys. I find it very hard to believe this man would throw away his 18000 hour career and murder 250 people who entrusted him. Or his copilot, crew, etc. I also find it hard to believe someone would drag out their suicide and let the plane slowly fill with water. There is more data out there that nobody talks about. Like how last year the FAA fined Boeing $2.7m for "faulty fasteners and pinched wiring" in the 777, which could "possibly lead to a failure of the transponder in the tail". And of course the 787's infamous two lithium fires. 370 was supposedly carrying lithium batteries as cargo. My guess is some issue took them by surprise, they turned around, and everything after that was autopilot with an incapacitated crew. The other "data" that doesn't quite fit was forged by Malaysian incompetence and media flurry.

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    1. (Mike H) It is a plausible explanation but when it comes to likely causes, (especially based on the "meta" public and foreign relations attack that this probably was, perpetrated on the Malaysian government), it is a much more likely thing that the pilot is responsible than a cascading series of equipment failures and chance happenings.

      This post is based on parsimony, the explanation of mechanical failure that you have suggested is less likely when taken into account of all unlikely circumstances in sequence and the totality of the event than pilot suicide. (The batteries onboard plane were consumer grade small batteries and unlikely to be related to any fire if there was one).

      I think the theory you have is plausible, it is just not as likely as due to the pilots political motives, timeline of events and known human inputs, the likely location of the plane in Southern Indian Ocean and the ultimate outcome in the media that has been an effective nightmare for the assumed target of the attack, the Malaysian government.

      Please see prior post for explanation of why we feel this is not an accident, but is a carefully constructed plot by someone who was a thinker like Capt Shah seems to have been by all accounts.

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    2. (Mike H) Nobody is saying he is a "bad guy" in his personal life. We do believe he is probably a mass murderer though. In fact I think it is his ideology and motive was underpinned by a sense of social justice for Malaysian people. In the end though, from the sense of moral hierarchy, if proven he is involved, I think we can all agree that he went beyond socially acceptable bounds to prove his point. To your point, because of his strong political convictions and involvement, he specifically "weighed" the deaths of people as being the necessary price for what he saw as greater good for Malaysians. (Again, just a theory on why a "nice" guy would do something so bad out of principle)

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  6. why and what would be the motive for suicide? People do not commit without a reason...if you are suggesting terrorism....it is usually broadcast all over to claim responsibility with a lot of HUHU LALA

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    1. (Mike H) Pilot had strong left leaning political views, and motive to make the government of Malaysia look bad. He has certainly been successful in keeping the government up at night. The guy Hussein you see on TV always talking about the flight? Shah called him a "moron" online. See all the angry press from China and domestically in Malaysia which is critical of the response effort?

      At some point in time we hypothesize that the left-leaning ideals the captain embraced and his democratic fantasy spiraled out of control to the point he was willing to make a political statement that included killing everyone on board. If the plane is never found, (primarily because the plan was to crash it where he thought they would never look); it would forever remain a mystery to the "public relations" detriment of the Malaysian government.

      Please see the prior article for further details on the hypothesis for the captain's motivations and an explanation of personality type.

      All we are saying is that

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    2. Absurd. We have two Iranians using stolen passports that some mystery man paid $10k for; we have a known issue of faulty fasteners taking out the transponder; and your theory is an upper-middle-class left leaning dude suddenly created mass murder because he once wore a T-shirt that says "Democracy is Dead". This man is very likely a HERO. If he is ever cleared I expect one hell of an apology.

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    3. Anon above:
      It is not helpful to get emotional about the hypothesis that it was the pilot. I am sure we all hope that it was some freak accident but we are all just trying to examine the facts that are available.

      I live in Australia - there is currently a spotlight on refugees arriving by boat in our political arena, however I believe that the vast majority of refugees arrive by plane. Countries like Iran do not just allow any of their citizens to get on a plane and flee the country. They often have fake passports to be able to enter the country, which they destroy on arrival. I think many people would be willing to part with $10 000 to do this.
      http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/07/11/get-fact-how-many-asylum-seekers-turn-up-without-id/?wpmp_switcher=mobile

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    4. (To Anon March 22, 2014 at 7:13 PM)

      It's a hypothesis not fact as yet. This happens all time with crime and other stuff, in discussing what MIGHT have happened.

      History has shown us many so called Heroes who justify the means to an end - even if it kills many innocent people.

      For me, it is all suspicious. Not because of climate in Malaysia - but there has been a string of choas happening in Syria, Yemen and other countries are being bombed by USA and kept quiet.

      And every time, something crazy happens on other side of world which deflects the attention to a coming war that USA and Israel are trying to push with Iran by messing with Syria and other countries.

      That's also an hypothesis. Sometimes, what seems so crazy, so out of the picture, so just, "No, it's impossible, it's just too darn crazy, it don't make sense..." becomes the truth.

      And sometimes, that truth does not even surface if people do not think, debate about it, examine. Sometimes, it can give ideas for others to look into.

      But sometimes...it can also be a cause of distraction to the real deal and issue at hand.

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  7. MY THEORY>>>>Pilots detected a mechanical problem, knew the plane was going to crash, said good night and put the plane on autopilot. It drifted...45000 to 20000, may be several times. Was then pushed by autopilot sequences and weather down south or North where it crash landed in the waters. Malaysian authorities know and possibly Boeing, but they are hiding...I have flown and these planes have flight pathway live on each individual seat and on a big screen on the plane. Some one would have called if there was a struggle or some thing funny going on

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    1. no true pilot is going to shrug his shoulders and accept the aircraft is going to crash - and go about burning off 7 hrs of fuel waiting for it to happen. your theory still ignores - no transponder idents, transponder being turned off instead - no ELT/FDR/CVR pings, no wreckage. i don't beleive suicide either, and the climb to 45k' theory is good. Interesting post on pprune.org where some sim pilots loaded a 772 up like MH370 and tried to get it to FL450 - it nearly got there and flew for a few minutes before needing to descend and increase airspeed. it will stall otherwise (could account for the reported drop to FL200 by MH370??) imho it's in Pakistan or Afganistan being readied for a mission. The USA though know where it is and are waiting for it to be ready to go, then they will spread it and its dirty bomb load and explosives across the face of whatever country, calling it a pre-emptive strike as an act of war.

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    2. Anonymous: I think the key words in what you wrote were "sim pilots". In my engineering experience a device can typically go beyond the limits that a simulator may impose. Maximum altitude would also be a function of many other functions including the jet itself, climate, weight, angle of ascent and speed which the sim pilots may have been off on.

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    3. CNN updates are pointing towards this possibility..Zombie Plane...failure of autopilot...Boeing will be in trouble if it comes out to be true

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  8. What about if he had accidentally turned off the NAV unit, and the re-programmed routed aircraft went on the straight path due to lack of updates.

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  9. Good theory. I was thinking the same thing. Motive: Midlife Crisis, life going down the toilet, fake your death, make a lot of money, kill a lot of people that you hate, scores points for the afterlife. Take your pick....

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  10. excellent thinking!! of the hundreds of posts, yours is the best.... one question: the pilot's wife and children... gone, but a real marriage problem, or part of a planned move? would make a big difference in evaluating pilot's possible thinking, motivations. do you know of accurate info on this issue?

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  11. At very least - interesting.

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  12. There are no Flight Engineers on any 777's nor are there any circuit breakers accessible to the general cabin areas, regardless of where equipment is located.

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  13. I think its a complete mechanical problem failure and plane went down due to Autopilot issues..Auto pilot has caused problems in the past.

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    1. It is not known that Autopilot was an issue. Millions of aircrafts fly with Autopilot function everyday. All commercial airlines use it for fuel efficiency and route optimizations. No human can provide the level of real-time control that an Autopilot function can.

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  14. Each and every airline has flight engineers. Malay mh370 didn't have one in the cockpit. There are safety issues if fire breaks out. There are a complete set of ON/OFF switches on the control panel that is immediately accessible to the Pil & Co. Obviously, the equipments are located in different positions depending on the CoG; functions they provide; availability of the space and what kind of IF they have to the flight computer, or if they are stand-alone. ACARS is not something that you can switch off like the author of this blog suggests. It is not at the tail-end of the aircraft. It is part of the communication system that is most likely fixed near the front. To turn off the communication system on 777, you need to know the complicated procedure. It is a very complicated procedure to switch all the communication system off. A flight engineer of 777 ought to know the procedure. The pilots are trained to handle malfunctions in flight but they do not have the real knowledge of the avionics and flight architecture.

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  15. A riveting and calculated hypothesis. Like what I have posted on my blog, The whole scenario is a game of chess. Each player has their own plan of attack but motives are no different from each other. To conquer. Now the questions becomes, is Malaysian Flight 370 , aboard Boeing 777, the queen that has to be sacrificed for the good of everyone involved in the game?

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  16. Milah....Thanks. CNN is now talking the same possibility.

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    1. If CNN had anything relevant to say I wouldn't have started blogging on this topic in the first place.

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  17. Start typing that apology to the HERO Pilots; from CNN:

    Earlier Sunday, Malaysian authorities said the last transmission from the missing aircraft's reporting system showed it heading to Beijing -- a revelation that appears to undercut the theory that someone reprogrammed the plane's flight path before the co-pilot signed off with air-traffic controllers for the last time.

    "Now we have no evidence the crew did anything wrong," he said. "And in fact, now, we should be operating with the primary assumption being that something bad happened to that plane shortly after they said good night."

    "The last ACARS transmission, sent at 1:07 a.m., showed nothing unusual. The 1:07 a.m. transmission showed a normal routing all the way to Beijing," it read.

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    1. Au contraire. Look at the news today. The Malaysian government has definitively said that the plane ended in the Southern Indian Ocean. Mike and I have been right about this from Day 1.

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/24/mh370-lost-southern-indian-ocean-malaysian-pm

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    2. And how does that have anything to do with the topic at hand, which is your baseless character assassination of the pilot?

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  18. Vim Mahadevan, I am very much in agreement with your hypothesis. I have just a few questions that will help me, and perhaps others, eliminate the possibility of hijacking or mechanical failure from our minds. I would be so grateful if you would be willing to answer these questions for me: 1. In the event of a sudden emergency, such as fire or decompression, how typical would it be to take 2 full minutes to turn the plane 180 degrees and NOT make a mayday call during the turn? 2. In the event of a fire or accidental decompression that killed EVERYONE and knocked out the transmitters before ANY cell call could be made by a passenger or a mayday call by the pilot but AFTER the pilot had programmed the 2 minute turn and descent to 12,000 feet, would the plane fly on autopilot along the route that it did....AND climb again on its own to 30,000+ feet? 3. In the event of a hijacking......Is there any possible act that hijackers could perform in the cabin to incapacitate ALL passengers so no cell call could be made while keeping the pilots unaware so they would not make a mayday call......THEN got into the cockpit and killed the pilots and flew the route that was flown after turning transponders off? 3. If I was a passenger on that flight and was ALIVE at the time of a hijacking starting, a fire, a mechanical failure or realizing pilot changing route.....would my attempted cell call be successful while at 12,000 feet heading back over Malaysia?

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    1. 1.) There is confusion there, because some experts say "Aviate, Navigate, and Communicate" (ABC) in that order. On the other hand, in 2 previous fires where planes were lost, they radioed to the tower. So, most experts think it is unlikely nobody would try to communicate, but it is not impossible that in an emergency it would not happen. ;
      2.) I do not know how autopilots work, but if you look at the known flight path, it made several strange waypoint changes (mostly staying over water), and ultimately again turned sharply to wind up in the southern indian ocean. It doesn't make sense they were trying to land, it more makes sense they were trying to be undetected. They flew past the supposed "safe haven" airport and changed direction again after that. ; the plane at 12,000 feet over the ocean makes it look like a "Lear Jet" or other small airliner and so it does not look as suspicious as a big jet, which only fly at the high altitudes. I think once he was out to sea, he will fly high again to make max fuel efficiency. Looks like there was a turn to northwest and then there must have been a sharp turn south to get to the Indian Ocean. (I will be so sorry if I am wrong about the pilot) I think he does these moves as a "ruse" to confuse anyone who finds the radar traces. ; 3.) I have not speculated on the hijacking scenario, but am not aware of anything like that; maybe they could start a fire somehow, who knows., this scenario sounds very unlikely because the experts think that an experienced pilot programmed the course of the plane.

      Cell phone call doesn't work at above 15000 feet and/or above 155 mph. As long as they were going 155 over land it is unlikely a call could be made. Most of the low flying was probably over water so it doesn't matter; there is no cell phone tower to connect to there.

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    2. Hi Josh, thanks for your note. Unfortunately my knowledge of the cockpit is limited and I don't feel that I can answer your questions with a high degree of confidence. Most TV experts say that a two minute turn would be a gentle turn and passengers would not find it alarming.

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  19. Is there any way we can verify that equipment was being manually turned off, rather than being knocked out by power loss?

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    1. Evidence here is circumstantial. The fact that the systems were not shut down at the same time suggests that there was not complete power loss at one moment. And since they have multiple redundant communication systems they would have had time to Mayday should there have been partial power loss.

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  20. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11226334

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  21. ATTENTION: Sir Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia.

    SIR, may i request to please consider another search area on the missing malaysian airline MH370 on the whole area of Rangat town, middle Andaman island, India. the plane can not be seen by any satellite, as this was hidden on the rocky mountain of Rangat because she was pushed inside to a somewhat like a tunnel or trench. your search will only cover Rangat area, not on the seas or oceans. the land area of Rangat is small compared to the vast oceans of Indian Ocean & Perth Australia. please consider my suggestion and take immediate action on this matter. if you consider my suggestion and request, this might help solve the baffling mystery of the lost plane.

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  22. Why the Chinese have not figured out that the Americans are much more smarter than them?
    They should figure out a more elaborate plan to counter the American intelligence.
    And the Chinese should rely more on themselves and not by copying intellectual property...

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