Conflict & Tragedy
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could have landed safely in an unknown location
Although it is being widely reported that investigators believe the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 likely crash-landed in the Indian Ocean, the possibility that it landed safely somewhere has not yet been ruled out.
The evidence that the airplane was deliberately diverted from its course by a skilled pilot who took care to execute "tactical [radar] evasion maneuvers" as the plane changed course to a new flight route along established flight corridors to Asia, suggests that it was the execution of a plan and that the pilot probably had a destination in mind.
Unless we assume a suicide bid, it is reasonable to conclude that the pilot's intention was not to crash the plane but to land safely somewhere.
And as far as the suicide flight theory is concerned, there are easier ways for a pilot to commit suicide than execute "tactical radar evasion maneuvers," change flight course, and travel across Southeast Asia along carefully selected international flight corridors to Central Asia.
As Jeff Wise argues in an article published by Slate, it makes no sense to suppose that the pilot flew all the way from Southeast Asia to the Indian Ocean only with the intention of crashing the plane there, when he could have achieved the same goal by crashing into the waters of the Gulf of Thailand.
The details of the plane's flight path suggest strongly a pilot flying to a predetermined destination. Until the aircraft's wreckage has been found, we simply cannot rule out the possibility that the plane landed in an unknown location.
In a previous article, I quoted sources that suggested it was unlikely that the plane flew past the Bay of Bengal - its apparent direction - into air spaces in Central Asia. The assertion was based on the assumption that the "dense network" of air defensive systems in that region would have detected its presence.
But a new report by Reuters debunks the assumption that countries in Central Asia maintain air defenses more effective than those of countries in Southeast Asia.
That the airplane passed through Malaysia’s air space unchallenged even though Malaysian military radar detected its presence illustrates the fact that the effectiveness of a country's radar detection system depends on the authorities' assessment of threat.
Although Malaysia's military radar detected the plane, it is possible no one was monitoring the system at the time, or otherwise, officials monitoring it simply didn't assess the presence of what looked like a commercial airliner as a threat.
The reaction of radar technicians in Europe and the US would certainly be different: Sept. 11 has taught Western governments that a commercial airliner could be become a deadly weapon if it falls into wrong hands.
As Reuters reports, in airspaces where the assessment of threat is low, military authorities routinely ignore aircraft that appear to be civilian commercial flights and military radar systems are often operated on "as required basis," that is, the systems are switched on only when a threat is expected or during training.
That the relatively relaxed attitude to air space security is not limited to Malaysia is evident from the fact that the airplane flew through Thailand and Indonesia's airspaces undetected.
The sobering implication is that had the pilot decided to land the plane on an improvised air strip constructed in some remote jungle location, he could have done so without being detected.
The report by Reuters reveals similar weaknesses in India’s and Central Asia’s radar systems.
The plane could have flown into India's airspace over the Andaman Islands undetected. A senior Indian military officer admitted that "We have many radar systems operating in this area, but nothing was picked up. It's possible that the military radars were switched off as we operate on an 'as required' basis."
Reuters was able to confirm from other official Indian sources that the country does not keep its radar systems in operation all the time because it is "too expensive."
The same is likely for Pakistan, not to mention smaller Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
A complicating factor in assessing what happened to the jetliner arises in connection with the statement by investigators that it could have taken a southern course over the Indian Ocean away from Central Asia.
The southern part of the Indian Ocean is one of the most remote waters in the world.
Based on calculations, the plane's last signal to a satellite located above the Indian Ocean was transmitted from anywhere along two arcs extending northward to Central Asia and southward toward the Antarctica (see map).
The significance of the uncertainty about whether the airplane went north toward India and Central Asia or south is overlooked.
A pilot who executed radar avoidance maneuvers could also easily have tried, through a zig-zagging flight pattern, to create uncertainty about whether he went north or south.
The stark reality that emerges from these considerations is that it is not as difficult as we had thought to make a jetliner "disappear."