Industry News

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370: a “deliberate act” but how, by whom, and why?

Four weeks have elapsed since the ‘loss’ of MH 370 and one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age continues to fascinate people around the globe, perplex aviation industry professionals and traumatise the families of the passengers and crew on board. Everybody seems to have their theory as, after all, airliners simply do not just fall out of the sky. Whilst this incident may indeed turn out to be a failure of the aircraft itself, or have been instigated due to a fire as a result of goods carried in air cargo, Philip Baum evaluates the viability of each of the criminal acts of interference that might have brought about the disappearance of MH370 and considers the security lessons already learned.

Whilst the world ponders how a Boeing 777 can simply disappear without a trace and remain undetected for a month and the industry rightly calls for the better tracking of aircraft, the real challenge is in determining what set of circumstances resulted in the loss of MH370 in the first place. And, with a vacuum created by the absence of any wreckage, there has been an abundance of speculation ranging, in terms of criminal acts, from pilot suicide to terrorism and from cyber attack to the actions of an unruly passenger or stowaway. The problem is that all the theories are possibilities and whilst some are highly improbable, the reality is that losing a Boeing 777 for a month is, in itself, bordering on the impossible…but it has happened.

The speculation must be agonising for the families and friends of the passengers and crew on board the ill-fated flight as they cling on to that faintest of possibilities that their loved ones may indeed be alive and that, whilst the multi-national search goes on for the aircraft in the depths of the Indian Ocean, the aircraft has miraculously landed somewhere. The speculation has called into question the integrity of crewmembers who, rather than being the villains of the piece, may have actually been performing heroic acts as they desperately tried to retain control of the aircraft, making the disappearance all the more agonising for their families as their personal lives are picked apart in the full glare of the world’s media. But such is the bizarre nature of this incident, we have little alternative but to speculate.

So, given the fact that the Malaysian Prime Minister confirmed one week after the disappearance that the loss of MH370 was almost certainly a “deliberate act”, as opposed to a mechanical or structural malfunction, what could have happened? First of all, we must accept that a ‘deliberate act’ does not necessarily equate to a ‘criminal act’. Many, including Billie Vincent, the former Director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security, have quite rightly postulated that the crew may well have been dealing with a fire on board and have been shutting down systems, including the transponder, in an attempt to prevent the fire spreading before being overcome by fumes themselves, resulting in the aircraft continuing to fly until its fuel had run out.


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