It has been over five years since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, with no explanation as to what happened on board the flight, and what caused the Boeing 777-200ER to go down, killing all 239 crew and passengers.
Countless multi-country searches have been fruitless, and millions of dollars have been spent with very little to show for it, leading many to wonder if the mystery of why the plane went down will ever be solved at all.
Despite the extensive searches, it seems that flight MH370 has simply vanished, and the the wreckage has never been found, though pieces of debris have washed up from the Indian Ocean.
However, a new lengthy and detailed report in The Atlantic, published on June 17, Monday, shows that evidence points to a deliberate attempt by the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, to depressurize the plane until everyone on board suffered from a gentle and peaceful death, and then Captain Zaharie programmed the plane to fly for several hours until its fuel ran out and it rapidly descended into the ocean, shattering into a million pieces.
How it happened
MH370 disappeared from the radar shortly after it crossed into the airspace in Vietnam, almost 40 minutes after takeoff. Unfortunately, a mix up occurred wherein the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre at Kuala Lumpur was not informed by air traffic controllers at Ho Chi Minh four hours after it had disappeared.
Based on records from radar and computers, experts have been able to determine that the plane, which was supposed to be headed to Beijing, made a short turn to the southwest, and went back toward Penang, Malaysia, and then went northwest across the Andaman Sea, where it could no longer be tracked by radar.
According to Atlantic writer William Langewiesche, “That part of the flight took more than an hour to accomplish and suggested that this was not a standard case of a hijacking. Nor was it like an accident or pilot-suicide scenario that anyone had encountered before. From the start, MH370 was leading investigators in unexplored directions.”
He also wrote, “a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.”
However, the problem is that Malaysia seemed to have had a hand in not telling the truth immediately, Mr Langewiesche explained.
“The Malaysian regime was said to be one of the most corrupt in the region. It was also proving itself to be furtive, fearful, and unreliable in its investigation of the flight. Accident investigators dispatched from Europe, Australia, and the United States were shocked by the disarray they encountered.
Because the Malaysians withheld what they knew, the initial sea searches were concentrated in the wrong place—the South China Sea—and found no floating debris. Had the Malaysians told the truth right away, such debris might have been found and used to identify the airplane’s approximate location; the black boxes might have been recovered.”
The question as to how the passengers and crew allowed themselves to be subdued has been answered as well, that someone, presumably Captain Zaharie, caused the plane to depressurize. Pilots have oxygen masks that can last for hours, as opposed to those given to passengers, which only last for around 15 minutes.
One expert, American engineer Mike Exner believes that when the plane made the sharp turn away from Vietnam, it climbed up to 40,000 feet, which accelerated depressurization, “causing the rapid incapacitation and death of everyone in the cabin.”
Mr Langewiesche writes, “An intentional depressurization would have been an obvious way—and probably the only way—to subdue a potentially unruly cabin in an airplane that was going to remain in flight for hours to come. In the cabin, the effect would have gone unnoticed but for the sudden appearance of the drop-down oxygen masks and perhaps the cabin crew’s use of the few portable units of similar design. None of those cabin masks was intended for more than about 15 minutes of use during emergency descents to altitudes below 13,000 feet; they would have been of no value at all cruising at 40,000 feet. The cabin occupants would have become incapacitated within a couple of minutes, lost consciousness, and gently died without any choking or gasping for air. “
The question is why and how would Captain Zaharie deliberately hijack a plane and sentence himself as well as everyone on board to death. But this is not an unprecedented incident, with such suicide crashes of planes happening before, even on Singapore’s own SilkAir in 1997, when a pilot was “believed to have disabled the black boxes of a Boeing 737 and to have plunged the airplane at supersonic speeds into a river.”
The image portrayed by both Captain Zaharie’s family as well as official documents may have been less than true, however. While he was portrayed as “a good pilot and placid family man,” people close to him described him as lonely and sad. He was separated from his wife and his children had grown, and he had forayed into different romantic relationships on social media, none of which panned out.
“Zaharie seems to have become somewhat disconnected from his earlier, well-established life. He was in touch with his children, but they were grown and gone. The detachment and solitude that can accompany the use of social media—and Zaharie used social media a lot—probably did not help. There is a strong suspicion among investigators in the aviation and intelligence communities that he was clinically depressed.”
Again, the writer for the Atlantic points to a problem with Malaysia. “If Malaysia were a country where, in official circles, the truth was welcome, then the police portrait of Zaharie as a healthy and happy man would carry some weight. But Malaysia is not such a country, and the official omission of evidence to the contrary only adds to all the other evidence that Zaharie was a troubled man.”
Even fellow pilots in Malaysia told Mr Langewiesche that they believed—however reluctantly—that Captain Zaharie had been guilty, and the writer painted a scenario of how this could have happened.
“It is easy to imagine Zaharie toward the end, strapped into an ultra-comfortable seat in the cockpit, inhabiting his cocoon in the glow of familiar instruments, knowing that there could be no return from what he had done, and feeling no need to hurry. He would long since have repressurized the airplane and warmed it to the right degree. There was the hum of the living machine, the beautiful abstractions on the flatscreen displays, the carefully considered backlighting of all the switches and circuit breakers. There was the gentle whoosh of the air rushing by. The cockpit is the deepest, most protective, most private sort of home. Around 7 a.m., the sun rose over the eastern horizon, to the airplane’s left. A few minutes later it lit the ocean far below.
Had Zaharie already died in flight? He could at some point have depressurized the airplane again and brought his life to an end. This is disputed and far from certain. Indeed, there is some suspicion, from fuel-exhaustion simulations that investigators have run, that the airplane, if simply left alone, would not have dived quite as radically as the satellite data suggests that it did—a suspicion, in other words, that someone was at the controls at the end, actively helping to crash the airplane. Either way, somewhere along the seventh arc, after the engines failed from lack of fuel, the airplane entered a vicious spiral dive with descent rates that ultimately may have exceeded 15,000 feet a minute.”/ TISG