The tin foil hatters are coming out over the MH370 and MH17 incidents for a compelling reason. There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear, and flying on Malaysia Airlines before both incidents are explained with total credibility is simply reckless. I wouldn’t fly with them in these circumstances, and I wouldn’t want people dear to me flying with them.
What we have here is a moderately obscure midsized international air carrier operating without incident for years and then, in the space of barely four months, suffering two unexplained aircraft losses with combined casualties of nearly six hundred, both involving the Boeing 777, one of the safest and most trouble-free aircraft models in history. No one has been able to locate the wreckage of MH370 or even say with complete certainty that the plane crashed. All anyone really has is an inference that the wreckage is located somewhere off the west coast of Australia, in some of the deepest seas on earth; the transponder data used to make this inference indicate with equal probability that the last point of satellite contact may have been over Central Asia. This is a widebody redux of the disappearance of Steve Fossett, with an overlay of incompetence and blameshifting by a Malaysian government looking to save face. Meanwhile, the parties to the MH17 crash include Ukrainian civil aviation authorities working under a government that is responsible for a campaign of violent military attacks on civilians and a separatist movement whose officials grossly mismanaged the crash site, simultaneously failing to secure the site from interlopers and obstructing access to international investigators. US officials are scrambling to blame the crash on the Kremlin and Russian separatist elements in Eastern Ukraine, despite having the most tenuous standing in the matter.
Malaysia Airlines looks totally fubar. It simply is not prudent to assume that accident investigators will be able to pry the truth out of the parties to these crashes or get full, unobstructed access to the crash sites. The first crash site is at this point a hypothesis, and the second is in the jurisdiction of the breakaway faction in a civil war. What this means for travelers is that there is currently no way for investigators to determine what happened to these planes and, crucially, no way for them to recommend safety measures to prevent further crashes.
To give a charitable assessment, Malaysia Airlines appears extremely unlucky. It might be more apt to describe it as cursed. Under this scenario, the downing of MH17 could be a result of the disappearance of MH370. It would certainly be competent tradecraft for the shooters to choose a Malaysia Airlines flight for their target. Doing so would allow them the best chance to deflect blame onto the airline for the crash, on the basis that an airline that recently had one of its state-of-the-art widebody aircraft disappear into thin air could conceivably enough have another one spontaneously explode at cruising altitude. What this means is that Malaysia aircraft should be considered prime targets for any military or terrorist outfit planning a mass-casualty attack. The company already has an international reputation for compromised safety, so it would be foolhardy to assume that attackers won’t try to exploit its apparent vulnerabilities, or to assume that its pilots and security personnel will be able to take effective countermeasures. This could be a case of disappearance begetting attack begetting attack. You don’t want to be on board to find out.
What these crashes do not look like are pilot error. A lot of suspicion was cast on Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the captain of MH370, as a possible in-house hijacker, much of it on the basis that he owned a sophisticated flight simulator. This was nonsense: he owned the simulator because he was an unabashed aviation geek. His political leanings, strong though they were, were focused on a nonviolent reformist protest movement against the sitting government. Maybe he was responsible for the disappearance, but I doubt it. Even with his troubled family life, he seemed to have strong reasons to live another day. MH17 was apparently shot down by a high-powered surface-to-air missile, or alternately by an air-to-air missile from a fighter jet, and there are indications that this was the result of deliberate misdirection by air traffic control of both the flight path (north, into the war zone) and the cruising altitude (instructions to maintain 33,000 feet, not the requested 35,000, putting the plane closer to ground artillery). It doesn’t look like there was a thing the pilots could have done to prevent the crash, other than to disobey ATC instructions by maintaining a higher cruising altitude or deviating from the assigned flight path. If they’d done that, we might be hearing stories about how Malaysia pilots can’t be trusted because they’re a bunch of cowboys.
Probably the most credible, and spookiest, hypothesis I’ve heard for both incidents came from an engineer in the peanut gallery at Club Orlov, who speculated that the security department at Malaysia Airlines has been breached. This may sound kooky, but I think it’s completely plausible. Malaysia is a politically unstable country; just because the motives for compromising its airline security aren’t coherent doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. The CIA, the Mossad, or MI6 could easily put one of their spies undercover in a commercial air carrier’s maintenance or security departments. Nor are they the only ones; the United States alone has an alphabet soup of clandestine services, many of them with ill intent and nefarious histories. Stuxnet, the computer virus that made Iran’s nuclear centrifuges go crazy, is generally believed to be either an American, an Israeli, or a joint Israeli-American project. It would be hard for corporate security officers to keep a spy from one of these agencies from insinuating himself into an airline’s IT department. Even if colleagues raised suspicions about him, they’d probably be assuaged, or simply dismissed, with assurances that techies are naturally weird and antisocial.
Remote control overrides and other malware in commercial airliner cockpits are well within the realm of possibility. We don’t know that anything like this has been installed, but we don’t want to find out firsthand, and the best way to do that is not to change planes in Kuala Lumpur.
And if that’s in fact why MH370 or MH17 crashed, I’m not about to stand between the IT operatives responsible for the carnage and a Malaysian noose. It’s unpleasant to consider, but they’re exactly the kind of psychopaths who could benefit from a necktie party.
Drop them like they’re radioactive.