Flight 370 dropped to 5,000 feet to evade radar

posted at 8:41 am on March 17, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Over the last couple of days, Malaysia and outside investigators have begun releasing information that strongly suggests that the fate of Flight 370 was no accident. First, the flight path taken after deliberately turning off the transponders showed awareness of military radar systems in the region, and then came word that subsystems continued signaling for hours after the flight diverted from its path. Now a leading paper in Malaysia reports that the Malaysian Air flight dropped to below 5,000 feet for part of its mysterious journey, the better to avoid commercial radar too:

As the search for the missing flight MH370 enters its 10th day with few clues as to its whereabouts, the New Straits Times said today the Boeing 777-200ER dropped 5,000 feet (1,500m) to evade commercial radar detection.

In an exclusive story, the government-backed paper said investigators analysing MH370’s flight data revealed that the 200-tonne, fully laden twinjet descended 1,500m or even lower to evade commercial (secondary) radar coverage after it turned back from its flight path en route to Beijing. …

Investigators poring over MH370’s flight data had said the plane had flown low and used “terrain masking” as it flew over the Bay of Bengal and headed north towards land, the NST reported. …

“Terrain masking” refers to an ability to position an aircraft so there is natural earth hiding it from the radio waves sent from the radar system. It is a technique mostly used in aerial combat where military pilots would fly at extremely low elevations upon normally hilly or mountainous terrain to “mask” their approach.

The flight may also  have paralleled normal commercial routes to confuse ground-control trackers:

Officials, who formed the technical team, were looking into the possibility that whoever was piloting the jet at that time had taken advantage of the busy airways over the Bay of Bengal and stuck to a commercial route to avoid raising the suspicion of those manning primary (military) radars, the paper said.

All of this means that the disappearance didn’t come from a technical malfunction or catastrophic failure. Nor does it mean a hijacking in the two contexts we already know, either for ransom (monetary or political), or for annihilation — at least not at the moment. Whoever took Flight 370 had plenty of highly-populated targets in the region if they wanted to turn the plane into a guided missile, a la 9/11, but instead tried very hard to disappear off the grid. Why?

Investigators still don’t know the answer to why, but they may have a clue about who:

The Boeing 777′s Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, last transmitted at 1:07 a.m., about 40 minutes after takeoff. ACARS sends information about the jet’s engines and other data to the airline. The transponder, which identifies the plane to commercial radar systems, was shut down about 15 minutes later.

The final, reassuring words from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — were believed to have been spoken by co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, according to Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.

The focus had been on the captain of the flight, who had his house searched yesterday after Malaysian officials belatedly acknowledged that something very fishy was going on over the South China Sea. There is no word on whether Malaysia has begun searching the residence of Hamid, although it seems highly likely that a lot of security services around the world have begun to take a big interest in the entire flight crew.

Officials in Kuala Lumpur have taken a lot of heat for their handling of the crisis. China added to the pressure today, demanding that Malaysia “immediately” expand the search area for the flight:

“Search and rescue efforts have become even harder now, and the area is much bigger,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told Reuters on Monday. “We hope that Malaysia can provide more thorough, accurate information to countries participating.”

China’s media have been scathing of Malaysia’s hunt for the missing jet and have criticized conflicting information about the search.

In an op-ed in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper Yao Shujie, the head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, said that Malaysia “has lost authority and credibility” due to its chaotic response.

“The contradictory and piecemeal information Malaysia Airlines and its government have provided has made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious,” the China Daily newspaper wrote in an editorial.

Australia has decided to take the lead in searching the southern areas of the Indian Ocean, which is where the limit of the plane’s fuel would have taken the flight — if it was headed out to sea at all. It seems a lot more likely that all of this deliberation was meant for something other than a quiet ocean ditch, though, and more likely that the plane turned toward land. For what reason … no one knows. Yet.


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All these governments need to call in that Ballard guy who found the Titanic.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:26 PM

how do you eliminate the other aircraft and at the right t
The stolen aircraft would have to intercept the target aircraft way out over the ocean. It would require some precise timing, but it is very doable with good training and planning. Air refueling aircraft do this all the time by controlling airspeed to arrive at a designated rendezvous with other aircraft.

Also, you wouldn’t fly it at 45,000′. That is a 270 mile radar horizon.

That’s why you do it way out over the ocean, where there is no radar coverage.

ZenDraken on March 17, 2014 at 12:19 PM

All you need is a flight way out in the Ocean. It may be easy for the Air Force to do it but not so easy with non communicating aircraft. Way out of the terrorist league without state help. Unless the intercepting Aircraft begins its flight from a remote place in the middle of the Ocean this non scheduled flight will have to start from a location where it will be tracked. This is all to complicated for a state actor when they can just use one of their own aircraft, file a flight plan and do the deed.

jerryofva on March 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Wherever those passengers are now, they need to watch out for the smoke monster.

Galtian on March 17, 2014 at 12:31 PM

If these Pilots were landing the plane somewhere for the sake of hostages, you must then look not just for a runway – but a runway and people to help them. Once the pilots put the plane on the ground and open their sealed cockpit door their upper hand over the passengers is gone. They’d need serious help to control so many people. Like government sized help. Terrorists rarely can hold that many people hostage while also concealing where they are. Typical terrorist hostage situations are in public with bombs and such. Not complete kidnappings.

Also – Pakistan and Iran make no sense what so ever. Those two governments would never stand for the kidnapping of so many Chinese people. Maybe Americans (still unlikely) but not Chinese. China and Russia are the only major countries that care to associate with Iran. they would not do anything to piss China off. Pakistan cannot afford too either. They’d hate to do anything to make China more favorable to India than themselves.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Not to extend the realm of the absurd by bringing fictional movies into the discussion, but I actually think it would be worthwhile remembering Hans Gruber and his clever plan.

Given the political environment today, who WOULDN”T believe this is terrorism? It’s the perfect cover for an elaborate heist.

The question is–what was that plane carrying as cargo? And the Malaysians aren’t saying.

Art Vandelay on March 17, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Wherever those passengers are now, they need to watch out for the smoke monster.

Galtian on March 17, 2014 at 12:31 PM

I consider this the only logical explanation at this point. Desmond forgot to punch the numbers in. The magnetic power of the island skewed the flight paths to look all over the place.

WALT? WALT?

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Pull up google earth, draw a straight line from where Flight 370 went missing and the Bay of Bengal, at the tip of India draw a line from Nellore to Goa, then draw a line from Goa to Chabahar, Iran.

Remember, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. In this particular case, the shortest distance is not only nearly a straight line, 80 percent of it is out over the ocean. It’s also a distance well within the range of the missing 777.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 12:36 PM

This thing is so screwed up at this point that any theory sounds insane. They’ve killed logic.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Pull up google earth, draw a straight line from where Flight 370 went missing and the Bay of Bengal, at the tip of India draw a line from Nellore to Goa, then draw a line from Goa to Chabahar, Iran.

Remember, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. In this particular case, the shortest distance is not only nearly a straight line, 80 percent of it is out over the ocean. It’s also a distance well within the range of the missing 777.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 12:36 PM

But the Iranian government would never accept the kidnapping of Chinese citizens. They would not attack one of their chief backers and allies. Also, it would be very hard for terrorists to take this plane to Iran without the iron fisted Iranian government finding out.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:38 PM

But the Iranian government would never accept the kidnapping of Chinese citizens. They would not attack one of their chief backers and allies. Also, it would be very hard for terrorists to take this plane to Iran without the iron fisted Iranian government finding out.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Put the crack pipe down and back slowly away from it, for Flight 370 to end up in Iran at all, would require this to be a Al Quds Force operation from start to finish. Iran has NO chief backers or allies, they are a Islamic Theocracy. Iran has no more of a problem killing infidel Chinese than they do killing American’s.

In fact, Iran has even less of a problem killing Chinese people, because unlike the majority of American’s, the Chinese are not “People of the Book” and therefore have no special dispensation from Mohammad or Allah. The Chinese can convert to Islam, or die, those are their only choices. Being a Iranian chief backer or ally is not one of those choices.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

They’ve killed logic.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:37 PM

A liberal hijacked it? Where is LFoD, again?

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

donabernathy- remember the plane was flying in the middle of the night. Most of the people were asleep or trying to sleep. I would think they would notice the climb in altitude, but maybe not. Also, I read on Saturday, that the Indian ATC is mostly unattended at night. They don’t staff at night, just use computers and call someone if something comes in. That seems crazy to me. But if the pilot knew
that, it would make flying over parts of India easier.

megthered on March 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Guess any cell phones that were on the plane weren’t throwing off any GPS data either. Huh

roflmmfao

donabernathy on March 17, 2014 at 12:51 PM

They’ve killed logic.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:37 PM

A liberal hijacked it? Where is LFoD, again?

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

ROTFLMAO… Thread winner…. Now we have our new tin-foil hat conspiracy theory of the Day… The Perfesser did it…

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 12:52 PM

donabernathy on March 17, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Apparently has no idea how cell phones work.

db on March 17, 2014 at 1:00 PM

db on March 17, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Well, certainly an ass for all the laughing about this.

cozmo on March 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM

But the Iranian government would never accept the kidnapping of Chinese citizens. They would not attack one of their chief backers and allies. Also, it would be very hard for terrorists to take this plane to Iran without the iron fisted Iranian government finding out.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Put the crack pipe down and back slowly away from it, for Flight 370 to end up in Iran at all, would require this to be a Al Quds Force operation from start to finish. Iran has NO chief backers or allies, they are a Islamic Theocracy. Iran has no more of a problem killing infidel Chinese than they do killing American’s.

In fact, Iran has even less of a problem killing Chinese people, because unlike the majority of American’s, the Chinese are not “People of the Book” and therefore have no special dispensation from Mohammad or Allah. The Chinese can convert to Islam, or die, those are their only choices. Being a Iranian chief backer or ally is not one of those choices.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

You mistakenly give the Iranians no credit for diplomatic skills or self survival. They may hate the very existence of the Chinese – but they cannot exist without them. Their weapons and their world diplomatic backing come from Russia and China. I am sorry but if you do not realize that you are the one who needs to back away from the crack pipe. Like any human beings the people who run Iran do it for the sake of power, first and foremost. They use radical Islam as their tool to wield power, and their rhetoric to give something to their followers to believe in. While they are certainly evil that does not mean they lack all pragmatism. Meaning they would not destroy some of the only support they have in the world just to kill a few people in the name of Allah. No way. It would set their overall cause and quest for power back way too much.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM

That, too.

db on March 17, 2014 at 1:05 PM

In my formative years I was educated to no small degree by the plotlines on “Gilligan’s Island.” Frequently they involved Ginger (the movie star) remembering how, once in a movie, she got out a jam that was similar to what the castaways were facing.

Sooo…assemble the cast of “Lost” and see what they would propose.

Hey, it’s as good as anything else being offered.
Just sayin’

Galtian on March 17, 2014 at 1:11 PM

They use radical Islam as their tool to wield power,
eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM

This is where you are utterly and completely mistaken and all of your foolish idea’s completely break down. The Iranian Supreme Islamic Council is not using Radical Islam to wield power, it IS radical Islam wielding power.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Well, this is a guy with an interesting theory involving shadowing another aircraft. Technologically plausible, and no crazier than any of the others being floated out there.

bofh on March 17, 2014 at 1:34 PM

bofh on March 17, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Makes more sense than a lot of other theories.

Though, it would also take some luck.

cozmo on March 17, 2014 at 1:46 PM

The pilot may, may I say, may have been involved? Golly, you think?

VorDaj on March 17, 2014 at 2:10 PM


donabernathy on March 17, 2014 at 12:51 PM
Apparently has no idea how cell phones work.

db on March 17, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Bwahahahahahahahahahah

ain’t it 2 cans and a string

roflmmfao

donabernathy on March 17, 2014 at 2:10 PM

They use radical Islam as their tool to wield power,
eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM

This is where you are utterly and completely mistaken and all of your foolish idea’s completely break down. The Iranian Supreme Islamic Council is not using Radical Islam to wield power, it IS radical Islam wielding power.

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Even still, they would NOT sanction the downing of a Chinese loaded flight. At would be a mega set back to their desire to do harm to the US and Israel.

eski502 on March 17, 2014 at 2:23 PM

When this jet flies again, probably packed with explosives and radioactive waste, and heads toward Washington D.C. or another big U.S. city, will this bozo idiot in chief have the balls to shoot it down before it gets close?

Or will the fascist in chief cite environmental concerns downing the jet over the ocean, preferring a million or so die rather than some fish?

After that happens who will he retaliate against? Bitter clingers?

You can only count on one thing; obama will NEVER do the right thing.

Diluculo on March 17, 2014 at 2:54 PM

When this jet flies again, probably packed with explosives and radioactive waste, and heads toward Washington D.C. or another big U.S. city, will this bozo idiot in chief have the balls to shoot it down before it gets close?
Diluculo on March 17, 2014 at 2:54 PM

He will be thrilled at the gift that will allow him to come down with an iron fist on the American people.

Dr. Frank Enstine on March 17, 2014 at 3:13 PM

This report, like so much of the info flying around is BS. You would have to take something that size right down on the deck to get caught in the ground clutter to evade radar and you can’t “terrain mask” over water because there is no “terrain”. They are grasping at straws.

V7_Sport on March 17, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Has anybody figured out if donabernathy is a random pathological idiot troll, or a ideological pathological troll?

cozmo on March 17, 2014 at 3:21 PM

V7_Sport on March 17, 2014 at 3:17 PM

They were talking about while crossing the Malaysian peninsula. Lots of terrain there.

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 3:44 PM

V7_Sport on March 17, 2014 at 3:17 PM

They were talking about while crossing the Malaysian peninsula. Lots of terrain there.

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Did you see the link bofh posted? What do you think of Keith Ledgerwood’s theory?

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

I’m afraid I didn’t. I’ll have to give it a look later this evening.

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 4:54 PM

When this jet flies again, probably packed with explosives and radioactive waste, and heads toward Washington D.C. or another big U.S. city, will this bozo idiot in chief have the balls to shoot it down before it gets close?
Diluculo on March 17, 2014 at 2:54 PM

I don’t think they would go to all this trouble for a dirty bomb. A nuke, however, detonated high above the central US would create an electomagnetic pulse that would wipe out all the electonics and electrical grid over a huge area.

iurockhead on March 17, 2014 at 4:55 PM

They were talking about while crossing the Malaysian peninsula. Lots of terrain there.

GWB on March 17, 2014 at 3:44 PM

I was looking at “flight data had said the plane had flown low and used “terrain masking” as it flew over the Bay of Bengal and headed north towards land,” You are probably right but it’s by inference (“It passed low over Kelantan”) that they indicated it was over the Peninsula. That’s pretty densely populated, I’m pretty sure if they were hedge hopping to stay off the radar someone would have noticed a Boeing 777 blowing their shingles off the roof as it swung by. (“frying chickens in the barnyard”) Also, this was at night and any terrain following radar could be picked up by ayne looking for it.
The Bay of Bengal, from Andaman and Nicobar to the Indian coast is about 900 statute miles, not a heck of a lot of places to hide along the way. Another thing, the range would be severely compromised at that altitude. (Density altitude)

Did you see the link bofh posted? What do you think of Keith Ledgerwood’s theory?
oscarwilde on March 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

I just skimmed it. In terms of piggybacking on another 777; Flying aircraft close together to give the appearance of smaller numbers or different types is the whole reason why pilots study close formation flight, It just seems a bit far fetched. I don’t know the capabilities of the civilian radar in Malaysia or the surrounding countries, they might not see a second aircraft, they might think it was ghosting; they probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance. The military radar? Especially around the Pakistan Indian /border area?

He predicates the theory by saying

The major roadblock to this theory has been the insistence from India and Pakistan that their radar network showed no such unidentified aircraft entering or traversing their airspace.

The problem there is that all the players, including China and the USA don’t want to tip their hand as to the capabilities of their radar systems and their satellite monitoring. Or, alternately, if someone was asleep at the switch in India, Pakistan or Myanmar they wouldn’t want to advertise the weakness.

My inner conspiracist is telling me that somewhere in the Pentagon or in the The Office of Naval Intelligence they have print out of the flight ending in the location of a debris field, however I don’t know. I think a lot of the information that is being fed to the press is just to cover the butts of the Malaysians who have screwed this up big time. The idea that the pilots flew a 777 “Doolittle Raid” style to get under the radar probably belongs in that category.

V7_Sport on March 17, 2014 at 7:49 PM

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