Since the baffling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 almost two years ago, investigators led by officials in Australia have assumed that the plane became a “ghost flight,” somehow. The Boeing 777-200 flew drastically off course on its way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China, on March 8 of 2014.
The investigators have believed that the reason was that the pilot, crew and passengers — 239 people in all — somehow became incapacitated and the plane flew for seven hours on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the remote Indian Ocean in an area now known as the “Seventh Arc,” about 1,200 miles off the coast of the Australian west coast city of Perth.
But that belief may be about to change.
The Australia-led search team has been combing the ocean floor in the Seventh Arc area since September of 2014 — turning up no trace of the supposedly crashed Malaysia Airlines plane there. The only evidence that Flight MH370 may be in the Indian Ocean at all has been a single piece of debris, identified as part of the plane’s wing, that washed up on an island beach last July, about a thousand miles from the official search area.
If the investigators complete their search without finding the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, they now say, they may reconsider a theory that they had previously dismissed — the theory that a person was at the controls of the plane the whole way, guiding the rogue flight to parts unknown.
That way, the investigators say, they could explain how Flight MH370 failed to end up in the area where their calculations predicted the wreckage should lie — something that would likely happen only if the pilot, or a highly sophisticated hijacker, was guiding the Malaysia Airlines plane somewhere else.
For more background on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, watch the National Geographic documentary in the video below.
If the plane is not found by June, when the search is scheduled to wrap up, “we will have to explain to governments what the alternative is,” Martin Dolan, chief of the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau, said last week — adding that the so-called “rogue pilot” theory would at that point be reconsidered as “a significant possibility.”
“The alternative is, frankly, that despite all the evidence, the possibility that someone was at the controls of that aircraft and gliding it… If we haven’t found it, then we’ll have to be contemplating … that there were control inputs into that aircraft at the end of its flight.”
The theory first received widespread publicity in August of 2014 when aviation expert and former pilot Ewan Wilson published his book, Goodnight Malaysian 370: The Truth Behind The Loss Of Flight 370. In the book, Wilson and co-author Geoff Taylor argued that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah commandeered the plane and deliberately flew it to a mysterious location as part of an elaborate suicide plot.
The airline and the pilot’s family, as well as the official investigative team, dismissed the “pilot suicide” theory categorically at the time. But Dolan now says that the possibility that someone guided the plane beyond the search area means that the theory is back on the table.
“We were ready for most things, but MH370 has been unpredictable all the way through,” he said.
According to aviation expert and author Jeff Wise, who has served as an expert commentator on the MH370 disappearance on network television and who has conducted his own, independent inquiries into the bizarre case, said this week that he does not regard the failure of the “Seventh Arc” search as a setback, instead saying that the nearly two-year effort will have “succeeded in proving where the plane isn’t.”
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Wise called that alleged failure of the $130 million search ” the most hopeful turn in the case in a very long time.”
“The most likely scenario — the scenario that we’ve been told is the only reasonable one… the scenario that we’ve been told will imminently be proven correct — has been falsified. And that brings us one very big step closer to finding the truth.”
The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 investigators, however, are not expected to name Zaharie Ahmad Shah specifically as the “rogue pilot,” leaving open the possibility that an unknown hijacker could have entered the cockpit and taken over the flight controls.
[Photo via National Geographic Screen Capture]