ONE year on from the disappearance Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the world is still no closer to knowing for sure what happened to the ill-fated plane.
Despite the Australian Government committing $89.9 million to the search, a mission to scour the ocean floor west of Perth has failed to uncover any evidence pointing to the location of the passenger jet.
Now, a far-out theory from one of CNN’s chief commentators on the aviation disaster, science journalist Jeff Wise, has been circulated worldwide — and has more credibility than you might think, – or does it?
Wise’s theory is that the Russian government (indirectly) or FSB ordered the hijacking of the Boeing 777 and landed it in Kazakhstan.
Electronic signals or “pings” led investigators to believe that the plane flew south and crashed into the Indian Ocean, west of Perth. But Wise suggests that the pings detected off the coast of Australia had in fact been tampered with and that the plane instead flew north. He believes hijackers could have accessed the plane’s electronics and equipment bay (E/E bay) in the first-class cabin and messed with the burst frequency offset (BFO) data to throw investigators off the trail. “That would require an almost inconceivably sophisticated hijack operation, one so complicated and technically demanding that it would almost certainly require state-level backing,” Wise wrote in a New York magazine piece last week that has been circulated widely online.
Wise explained that a curious part of the plane’s footprint was that its satellite communications system disconnected and then came back online three minutes later, which he suggests was done on purpose by hijackers. “They turned on the satcom in order to provide a false trail of breadcrumbs leading away from the plane’s true route,” he wrote.
Wise believes the plane ended up in an airstrip in Kazakhstan, which Russia leased for its space program, but he offers no explanation about what happened to the plane after it landed.
He said that Russia had the satellite and aviation technology capabilities to pull off such a feat.
One reason Putin may have wanted to steal the plane would be to hurt the West and its allies, Wise wrote, particularly because the US had imposed punitive sanctions on Russia the day before MH370 disappeared.
“Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane’s passengers. Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold. Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere some day, packed with explosives. There’s no way to know,” Wise wrote.
Sound like a crackpot conspiracy theory? Well, even Wise himself admits that he’s an MH370 “obsessive” and that his idea sounds crazy. He acknowledges in the New York magazine
that his idea is “true conspiracy-theory material” and sounds like a “fantasist’s dream”. “That’s the thing about MH370 theory-making: It’s hard to come up with a plausible motive for an act that has no apparent beneficiaries,” he wrote. Wise told news.com.au that the positive reaction to his theory had been “mind-boggling”. “I spent a lot of time researching this topic, boring people to death, there were a lot of rolled eyes but now that the seabed has been searched, it makes sense we would be ready for this,” he said.
“There are two types of theories: The official scenario, which is pretty bare bones and doesn’t tell you why or who did it, and very elaborate conspiracy theories, but they don’t have any data,” Wise told news.com.au. “I think the appeal of my theory is it has data but it also has that satisfying thing of ‘Here’s who did it, here’s where it went and why’ and all that.
When solving any mystery – if you eliminate the impossible; what ever is left, however implausible, is possible.
While Wise, who is also a pilot, is considered an authority on the disaster, his notions have not necessarily found favour with other experts. He has written two articles on what he proposes could have happened to MH370
Read “The Spoof” here and “What Was Going On at Yubileyniy?” here.
After reading these two articles, I believe there are a number of issues with this theory as I see it. While the circumstances included in the article “The Spoof” may be technically possible, the chance of getting away with it would be slim in the extreme.
However, I consider that there are other physical factors which make this scenario unlikely, and in the main it is around the suggestion that the B777 auto-landed in Yubileyniy Airport Cosmodrome (UAON) north of Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
Consider the following if you will:
- The Boeing B777-200ER has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 656,000 lbs./297,550 kg.
- A B772’s maximum fuel load is 302,974lbs./135,660 kg. For it’s flight to Beijing, a distance of 2,500 miles, the fuel load is likely to be in the vicinity of 124,671 lbs./56,670 kg. with a duration of just over 7 hours.
- The zero fuel weight (ZFW) of a B772 is 304,500lbs./138,100kg. I will get to why these weights are mentioned here shortly.
- The flight to Kazakhstan would be just on or near the duration offered by it’s fuel load in Kuala Lumpur.
- An instrument landing system (ILS) is a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precise lateral and vertical guidance to an aircraft approaching and landing on a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow.
- Auto-land may be used for any suitably approved Instrument Landing System (ILS) or Microwave Landing System (MLS) approach, and is sometimes used to maintain currency of the aircraft and crew, as well as for its main purpose of assisting an aircraft landing in low visibility and/or bad weather. Yubileyniy is not so rated. Auto-land also needs to be supervised by pilots should anything go wrong.
- Yubileyniy Airport has no ILS facilities, no runway side lighting, no runway centre line lighting and no approach lighting. The airport has not been used since the demise of the Russian space shuttle program in 1989.
- Wise postulates that MH370 was hijacked and flown to Kazakhstan and landed at Yubileyniy at night, using the aircraft’s auto-land facility. Clearly, with no ground based ILS facilities, an ILS approach, and thus auto-land cannot be used.
- Without runway lighting available, any approach at night is suicidal. But is that a consideration?
- A visual approach, if possible, would need to be carried out by qualified pilots.
- The surface of the runway at UAON is equally dilapidated, rough and uneven and even if a landing had been attempted, the ability to use the runway is questionable.
- Supposing that the B772 did land, there is one final consideration. The location were Wise states that bulldozing had been carried out, and the aircraft possibly “hidden”, is 3km from the runway. This area is accessed by narrow roads of dubious quality and road surface, which would appear to be not wide enough or able to support a aircraft weighing in excess of 140,000 kg.
- Burying a Boeing 777 would be an enormous undertaking and not something that can be done in a couple of days. Any hole in which to bury the aircraft would need to be 60ft./20m deep to hide the tail – unless it was removed!
- Surely somebody located or serving at the nearby Gagarin Space Port would have seen something? How do you keep any number of people quiet? To keep a secret, the less people who know, the better!
- This leads me to my last observation. If the aircraft was hijacked and flown to Yubileyniy; how was it auto-landed without ground based ILS equipment, without lighting, on a runway not used for over 25 years.
- Then, on an area as open and barren as Yubileyniy, where was the aircraft “hidden”?
- Lastly, who benefitted from this? And why? And what is the point of carrying off an incident like this if you can’t gloat or claim responsibility for it?
- As I’ve stated before, the simplest causes and explanations are the most likely!