Reader Live-Chat: Jeff Wise Is Here to Talk About His MH370 Theory

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What should we believe?Photo: Government of Malaysia

Jeff Wise wrote in his New York feature about his personal, obsessive quest to figure out what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH37o, “I imagine everyone who comes up with a new theory, even a complicated one, must experience one particularly delicious moment, like a perfect chord change, when disorder gives way to order.” Wise’s theory, which he made public online in December, makes perfect sense — if you can get on board with Vladimir Putin being able to carry off a terrorist master plot that would put a Bond villain to shame: engineering a complex hijacking, manipulating satellite data, and hiding the plane and its passengers at a remote space base in Kazakhstan.

Wise isn’t the only self-appointed sleuth still itching to get to the bottom of how the heck a 777 could seemingly disappear, but here’s your chance to ask him anything about his article. Submit your questions to the comments section, or on Twitter with the hashtag #mh370questions, and we’ll post them here with Jeff’s answers starting at 3 p.m.

kthxbye asks: How could it fly over disputed territories of China and India, militarily active regions, without being detected?

It’s a fair presumption that countries like China and India have active military radar installations in their border areas. However, it’s not clear where exactly these radars are located and whether they are operated around the clock. Reuters has reported, for instance, that India turns at least some of its radar installations off at night. And sources have told me that the reason Indonesia did not see MH370 on its radars, even though we know that the plane flew within 60 nautical miles of a major facility, is that they, too, turn their radars off at night. This might seem careless, but Indonesia is a poor country that does not face any imminent military threat; as it happens it does not currently possess a fighter squadron in that part of the country that is capable of night-time interception. At the end of the day, the argument that a northbound plane should have been seen by radar is a lot like the argument that there should have been debris from a southbound plane: it has intuitive appeal, but it is hard to objectively back up.


matt.lind asks: Okay, I’ve read the Amazon Single and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also dislike Vladimir Putin, and want to believe that he’s truly the bond villain he looks like on TV. However, I have a few questions about your theory that gives me lingering doubts:

1) Are you saying that MH370 flew on a straight line path through India, China, and Afghanistan, or are you saying that it flew on the borders of FIR zones through those countries? Or are these things the same?

Along the FIR borders, which in this case is the same as the national borders. See Fig. 21 in the web story.

2) Was any raw data from the civilian radar in India, China, or Afghanistan released?

No.

3) Have you or anyone else requested any such information?

As I recall, all countries in the north either denied seeing anything or said nothing. Remember, Indonesia also said they didn’t see anything, and we know that MH370 flew through their radar coverage zone.

4) Has anyone asked the U.S. Defense Department for military radar from Afghanistan?

As far as I know, no, but I can imagine such a request would be futile. I don’t think that MH370 went through Afghanistan, at any rate.

5) Do you have any thoughts about the SIA68-MH370 flight path theory?

I thought it was clever but SQ68’s route didn’t match the BTO data, aka ping rings, and I think that data is pretty solid.

6) Are you saying that the U.S. government knows that MH370 was hijacked by Putin and doesn’t want to admit it, or are you saying they are choosing not to believe this, because it would make for an awkward geopolitical reality?

This is getting into epistemology — can we choose what we believe? I proposed that it may be possible that the Russians told the US, so that the US would appreciate their prowess in accomplishing the deed, but that’s only speculation.


gpowell asks: How could the Russians pull something like this off when the U.S. has vast intelligence resources to detect such a plot? Wouldn’t a U.S. spy satellite notice a Boeing jet parked at a known space base, which I assume is watched fairly regularly?

Great question. If the plane landed at the Yubileyniy Aerodrome, it would have touched down about an hour and a half before sunrise. That would have been time enough to refuel and take off again (or, alternatively, to be hidden) before it could be spotted by spy satellites. If a spy satellite did happen to spot a 777 flying somewhere over the middle of Russia or Kazakhstan later in the day, there would be nothing unusual-seeming about it.


SoSoNice asks: What are you wearing?

The same thing as rgqueen.


Niu asks: I just have a hard time believing that MH370 could have passed through the airspace overland of so many different countries without any satellite detection.  To me, it makes a lot more sense that MH370 was spirited away to Diego Garcia and that the passengers were captured by US, British, or maybe even Indian agents.  

The idea that MH370 flew to Diego Garcia, or was shot down while en route, is a popular theory. However, in order for that scenario to be true, all of the Inmarsat data has to be thrown out, including the so-called timing data, aka BTO data. This is the only information that we have about the last six hours, so to say that it’s invalid is to say that we don’t know anything about the fate of MH370. If it could have gone to Diego Garcia, it could have gone anywhere. The same applies to a great many of the other theories that you’ll likely read in comments sections like these. What I’ve been trying to do over the last 11 months or so, along with the rest of the Independent Group, is to see how we can make sense of the facts at hand. The results may not be as intuitively appealing as a Diego Garcia run, but one can at least make a case for them scientifically.


kthxbye asks: Why is it so hard to believe the pilot did it? 

You seem to agree that since its electronics were disabled at the exact moment between radar coverage, it was either one of the pilots or super-elite hijackers. The senior pilot clearly had the knowledge and sophistication to pull this off; the junior pilot didn’t and was probably too junior to stop him. The was politically active and apparently increasingly pissed off by the governments unjust prosecution of ibrheim, and feelings of helplessness can lead to rage and even a psychotic break. Combine that powerlessness with the power of being an airline pilot, and “I’ll show them!” 

One only hopes the sudden assent to extend high altitude and use of computer waypoints to direct it afterwards indicates everyone was knocked out by decompression early on, not forced to endure until dawn. The top level question isn’t rhetorical, exactly: because this is an unfathomable reason to commit mass murder.

I don’t find it hard to believe that the pilot did it; in fact, if the plane went south — which, at this point, it well may have, though I argue that with each day the search goes on without finding anything, the probability decreases — the most likely explanation is that the pilot diverted the plane as part of an incredibly elaborate suicide mission. It would seem odd that if his intent was to embarrass the government he wouldn’t have somehow left behind some kind of message. But then again, if you’re that insane, who knows what logic you’re going to follow? So in short, yes, a plausible scenario, and in fact I’d call it the default scenario at this point, but like every other one it has its flaws.


kthxbye asks: Agree this comment thread really seems to have jumped the shark. Shark… Wait a minute…  http://i.imgur.com/ZMqX6.gif  

Oh man I love that.


@mpnunan asks: Russia and  Kazakhstan have planes. They don’t need to hijack one for a plot. Ergo, must we assume it was rogue/terror group?

Presumably the plane wasn’t hijacked just so someone could get their hands on a plane; there are easier ways to do that. More likely it was done as a demonstration of prowess, or in retaliation for sanctions, or some such. Really, motive is very difficult to pin down, no matter what your theory about MH370 might be; nobody visibly benefitted from the disappearance of MH370. The reason my suspicion lands on Russia is basically down to math — the ping rings indicate that if the plane went north, it went to Kazakhstan.


Niu asks: I like many aspects of the theory, Jeff, and I just heard your interview on NPR’s “Here and Now.”  I guess if you are into doing a “whodunnit,” I think the US and/or the British have every bit as much motivation as the Russians or Kazakhs may have had.  The 20 Chinese aerospace engineers working on Chinese cyber and space technology were a nice prize to capture especially as the US, for as much sabre rattling it does towards Russia, is really looking towards China as its main competitor for dominance over the cybersphere and the dominance in the militarization of outer space.  

Hmm, I guess the question regarding your scenario would be, if the US or UK were responsible, where did they take it? If you’re looking for an alternate perpetrator in a northern-route scenario, the next most likely one would be China, because the 7th arc also runs through there. If the plane flew slowly or took a meandering route, it could have wound up in the western or even southern part of the country.


@weitchou asks: Do you plan on taking your investigation any further? Has anyone offered to fund your research?

Nobody’s offered to fund my research, but what a great idea! I’m certainly going to keep following up on whatever leads I can find, and already I’ve gotten quite a few offers of help from readers and some interesting ideas have been mooted. There’s a lot of specific technical information that’s out there that would be enormously helpful to independent investigators if were to become available. For instance, how exactly does the Doppler precompensation algorithm in the Honeywell Satellite Data Unit? Same goes for humintel — maybe someone knows one of the neighbors of Chustrak and Deineka and can tell us what these guys were up to.

Well, what do you know, case in point: as I was writing this an Indonesian aviation journalist who I know and have a lot of respect for just emailed me to let me know that, contrary to my prior understanding, there’s a hatch in the ceiling below the Satellite Data Unit that can be opened from the cabin. This, parenthetically, is just where Chustrak and Deineka were sitting. 


Well, that looks like a wrap. Thanks everybody to everybody who asked an insightful question; the rest of you, see me after class. In summation, I’d just like to say that while I’d like to look forward to a day when aircraft accidents never happen, I think it would be worth sacrificing a few planes now and again to live in a world where 300-foot sharks could jump six miles high. If anybody has further questions they’d like answered, come join the discussion in the comments section of my blog. And if anyone feels that their life has in any way fallen short of what they once hoped it might be, just buy a copy of my Kindle Single, “The Plane That Wasn’t There: Why We Haven’t Found MH370,” and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel, instantly.