In what remains the greatest mystery in the history of commercial aviation, on March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200 operated by Malaysia Airlines under the flight number MH370 simply vanished out of the sky. After a four-year search costing, as CNN reported, upwards of $150 million, one combing an area of the Indian Ocean floor the size of Louisiana — the “seventh arc” where international investigators say the plane must have crashed into the sea — no evidence that the plane was ever there has been found.
On Monday, acclaimed journalist and aviation expert William Langewiesche published a lengthy report in The Atlantic Monthly purporting to have solved the mystery of what happened to the missing plane. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Langewiesche writes, was commandeered by its own pilot, 52-year-old Zaharie Ahmed Shah. Langewiesche claims that Shah took the plane on a six-hour suicide flight after calmly murdering all 238 other people on board by depressurizing the cabin. Meanwhile, Shah allegedly breathed oxygen through a special mask designed for the plane’s pilot.
Investigators have largely dismissed the possibility that the flight’s disappearance was the result of an elaborate suicide plot by Shah, because their investigations found nothing significant in the veteran pilot’s personal history that would indicate a suicidal nature. But according to Langewiesche, per an Insider summary of his Atlantic article, Shah “was depressed and lonely,” was separated from his wife, and was engaged in Facebook flirting with young women.
But one expert on the Flight MH370 case is not buying Langewiesche’s claims — and has quickly said so in a rebuttal published on Monday by The Daily Beast. Aviation expert Clive Irving accused the American journalist of promoting a “discredited conspiracy theory” by blaming the crash on Shah.
Irving cites the Malaysian investigators’ report, accessible online via the aviation site Skybrary, which he says “drew a picture of a man at the peak of a successful career,” one who had put in 18,000 hours flying commercial airliners, including more than 8,500 hours on the Boeing 777.
Though Langewiesche, in his Atlantic report, appears to accuse the Malaysian government of perpetrating a cover-up, Irving notes that, as the Daily Mail reported in 2014, Shah was the initial chief suspect in the plane’s disappearance. Malaysian authorities, in fact, worked diligently to pin the disappearance on the pilot.
“The fact that, a year after the event, there is no forensic case against Zaharie is in great contrast to how Malaysian officials themselves responded. Blaming the pilots was their first instinct,” Irving wrote in his Daily Beast rebuttal.
Irving says that the Malaysian authorities, “buried in a widespread swamp of corruption,” would have been more than likely to blame Shah “had there been any shred of evidence to do so since dead men cannot ever rebut the smear.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.