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.



  1. "The Aftermath" section contains same paragraph twice.

  2. Nothing you have written here even remotely touches the level of certainly needed to declare that it was a "likely possibility that a pilot, specifically Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is the "mastermind" of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370".


  3. Again, just what is the best other option you have to explain the scenario? The motive is 100% there and the damage is done.

  4. There are too many coincidences during the flight of this missing plane. That sends up red flags for me. But, your reasoning doesn't make sense. You are going around in circles. No one knows enough, other than the circumstantial evidence, to be able to say who dun it! If they do know more, they are not saying. I pray that the plane did crash. The other options are too horrible to contemplate right now.......

  5. This is Mike H commenting - I feel in this case there is absolutely no certainty. I simply think it is most likely in the absence of other better suggestions, given what we know about the profile of the pilot, his political views, the technical skill necessary to accomplish this, and the type of brain someone would need to have to devise a plot like this. I advise everyone to save judgment until the authorities complete an investigation, but I think in the end, they will be coming to the same conclusion as I have as to who is primarily responsible.

    To the comment on no "mastermind" evidence; the term "mastermind" and "systems thinker" are somewhat interchangeable as description for the type of personality that Shah seems to have possessed. See:

    Thanks, and please debate; don't hate :)

  6. I would love to believe your theory because it allows the possibility that 239 people have survived. Based on the evidence reported by the mass media, it appears that a fire on board caused the pilots to shutdown the electronics and turn towards the nearest airfield, followed by a sudden decompression that rendered everyone on-board unconscious. The pilot-less plane then appears to have climbed until it stalled, dropping a wing and changing heading, before recovering airspeed and eventually trimming-out at 29000 ft. It would have flown until the fuel was exhausted. It this is true the people on board are lost. Mercifully they would not have suffered.

    1. (Mike H) Unfortunately our profile and hypothesis suggest all aboard the plane are perished; sorry...

  7. I think this theory hits the nail on the head. Of course, it could all be a fantastical set of events in an accident, but a suicidal pilot with a gripe would seem to fit the whole sequence of events. Even if he was not accounting for the fact that the plane would go virtually undetected on radar, he likely did plan to get the plane to the remotest ocean possible. Also he may have put the passengers and himself 'to sleep' before rather than a much more unpalatable crash landing.

    1. (Mike H) I have wondered the same thing too. Since I have personally committed in my mind to this being a tightly wrought plan; I would see it as a contradiction for him not to see the flight through until it touched down at sea. He was a simulator pilot, we don't think he would pass up the opportunity to test the landing at sea.

      Could be wrong; who knows, he could have become remorseful after killing all aboard and taken his own life; I don't think this is the way he would execute so perfectly planned and costly attack, no, probably I think he would see it through to the end to ensure no mistakes were made. I think this is the profile he had. (Could be wrong :-) )

      It is still possible he had a co-conspirator helping him. There are plausible scenarios for a 2-man conspiracy (if copilot is somehow involved, though unlikely) or a much wider conspiracy if Mohd Selamat is somehow a conspirator. It would be a wider conspiracy because someone would have had to set up the plane repair in China in order to get Mohd on this particular flight. Otherwise his presence there is a random coincidence and he is not involved. The overall, most likely answer is that the captain did it all himself and his expertise and automated systems of a modern airliner makes it most likely he acted alone. He had the strongest motive and any collaboration was likely to make the plot more prone to error or discovery. (Could be wrong)

    2. Yes, I can see your logic in thinking the pilot may want to see the 'mission' through to the end. It would be terrifying to pilot a plane for so long and purposely crash land it into the sea. He would want to ensure that it was guaranteed to kill him as quickly and painlessly as possible. So if the sea landing had any chance of leaving him alive, I think he would have ensured that would not happen.

      I agree that it is possible that there was a second conspirator, but unlikely. The profile would fit a 'lone shark' rather than a terrorist style plot. However there are new reports of the pilot talking to a 'mystery woman' just prior to take off. I suppose we will have to wait for details of this.

  8. Here's a very interesting comment I ran across on YouTube last Tuesday:

    SimpleSiloquee3 days ago

    Four days after flight MH370 goes missing, a patent is approved. 4 of the 5 Patent holders are Chinese employees of Freescale Semiconductor of Austin TX. The fifth is the company itself. Each patent is divided into 20% increments to the 5 holders -
    Peidong Wang, Suzhou, China, (20%)
    Zhijun Chen, Suzhou, China, (20%)
    Zhihong Cheng, Suzhou, China, (20%)
    Li Ying, Suzhou, China, (20%)
    Freescale Semiconductor (20%)
    Who owns Freescale Semiconductor? Answer - Jacob Rothschild! He owns it through Blackstone who themselves own Freescale. Here's your motive for the missing Beijing plane - all 4 Chinese Patent members were passengers on the missing plane.

    Anyone want to check this out?

  9. (Mike H) Apply our parsimony principle here for a minute to your more outlandish conspiracy theory. (Does sound like an awesome premise for a movie).

    Freescale has 20 employees on the plane, a blend of Chinese and Malaysians. Freescale may be based in Texas, but these are employees who generally do their work overseas. It seems routine that a group of Chinese and Malaysians would be on a flight between Malaysia and China.

    It would be very poor defense acquisition for us to be procuring critical weapons or defense technology from China.

    As these folks seem to have had regular access to China, and perhaps even lived there, it is unlikely they had anything to do with critical defense tech for the USA.

    With the patents on file in USA, there's no critical tech to intercept and protect.
    With the folks doing work in China, we can assume China also has far easier access to any potential technology by destroying or stealing the plane.

    There could be a deeper plot, but nothing about the Freescale information officially available seems to indicate a connection to the disappearance of the flight.

    While anything is possible; I think we can call this explanation "unparsimonious" at this time, given it is probably less likely scenario than that of pilot suicide.

  10. Another point; to all you more conspiracy oriented folk --

    OK, now just ask yourself if Edward Snowden is still alive for some reason; do you think the government would go stealing and destroying planes for this kind of data or product? Soooo unlikely.

    I see how a conspiracy theorists brain works though; rather than assuming the most likely scenario in the absence of more information; they assume the least likely -- eg. meteor, black hole, Iranian jihadists (a reflection on conservative psychology in most cases due to political prejudices), etc...

  11. Very nice post. Speaking about start-ups and technologies. To my mind, VDR is one of the most growing industries on the world's market. All of the paperwork is left behind and now it is time to go digital, data room is very convenient for any kind of business.