It’s not exactly breaking news to say that no one knows still what happened to Malaysia Air Flight 370, and no one seems to be getting much closer. In fact, we still aren’t sure that what we do supposedly know is correct about the flight. Yesterday a pilot offered a simple explanation for the sharp left turn and the apparent direction of the plane after contact was lost, which then swept the Internet for its simplicity. In Chris Goodfellow’s scenario, a fire broke out on the flight killing the communications and forcing a rapid change in the flight to the nearest emergency landing field capable of handling a Boeing 777. The altitude changes can be explained by a last-ditch effort to put out the flames, with the flight then going into a similar dead-stick finale as seen in the death of golfer Payne Stewart.
Not so fast, John Dickerson argues at Slate. While that might cover a few of the known facts about Flight 370’s actions, it leaves out critical points — such as course changes that deviated away from that airport:
Goodfellow’s account is emotionally compelling, and it is based on some of the most important facts that have been established so far. And it is simple—to a fault. Take other major findings of the investigation into account, and Goodfellow’s theory falls apart. For one thing, while it’s true that MH370 did turn toward Langkawi and wound up overflying it, whoever was at the controls continued to maneuver after that point as well, turning sharply right at VAMPI waypoint, then left again at GIVAL. Such vigorous navigating would have been impossible for unconscious men.
Goodfellow’s theory fails further when one remembers the electronic ping detected by the Inmarsat satellite at 8:11 on the morning of March 8. According to analysis provided by the Malaysian and United States governments, the pings narrowed the location of MH370 at that moment to one of two arcs, one in Central Asia and the other in the southern Indian Ocean. As MH370 flew from its original course toward Langkawi, it was headed toward neither. Without human intervention—which would go against Goodfellow’s theory—it simply could not have reached the position we know it attained at 8:11 a.m.
Not only that, but new reports indicate that the first, sharp course change got entered into the navigation system twelve minutes before the last communication from the flight crew:
An NBC News report that sources familiar with the investigation say data from the plane’s communications systems indicate someone manually programmed a turn into the Boeing 777’s navigation system 12 minutes before a voice from the cockpit said “all right, good night,” to Malaysian air traffic controllers.
If that is what happened, it could mean that whoever was at the controls had already planned a sharp turn to the west — well off the jet’s planned Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route — before the seemingly routine sign-off.
That turn is why the search for the jet has extended thousands of miles south across the Indian Ocean and thousands of miles north into Central Asia.
The focus on the pilots, therefore, looks at least appropriate. Malaysian officials earlier noted that the captain had a flight simulator program in his home computer, which isn’t terribly unusual. Overnight, though, they updated that part of the story to note that some files had been deleted from that system, and officials want to see whether they have any bearing on this mystery:
Malaysia’s defense minister said Wednesday that files were recently deleted from the home flight simulator belonging to the pilot aboard the missing Malaysian airliner, while a massive multinational search unfolded for the jet in the southern Indian Ocean.
Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference Wednesday that investigators are trying to retrieve the files. He also said that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing.
It’s hardly unusual to delete files from a computer either. If the captain was trying to hide his actions, it would make more sense to get rid of the flight simulator program entirely.
Meanwhile, some of the families of the missing passengers staged a demonstration today over Malaysia’s poor handling of the crisis:
Frustration with the search for missing flight MH370 boiled over into chaotic scenes as Chinese relatives were dragged away from journalists.
They were attempting to speak to Chinese journalists outside the daily press conference in Kuala Lumpur.
A BBC reporter was pushed away from the relatives, who were carrying banners criticising the handling of the case.
Teams from 26 countries are trying to find flight MH370, which went missing on 8 March with 239 people on board.
One of the relatives, a middle-aged woman, cried: “They give different messages every day! Where’s the flight now? Find our relatives! Find the aircraft!”
Who can blame them? The mystery has been intensified by errors, miscommunications, and a lack of international coordination that didn’t get addressed until days into the search. Officials still vacillate on results of their investigation, creating more and more confusion. We still aren’t even sure which direction to look, but the longer this goes without any sign of the passengers, crew, or potential malefactors becoming visible, the worse this looks.