Investigators think the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 was seized by someone who knew how to fly it and then flown toward (or to) an as-yet-unknown destination as much as 2,000 miles from its last known position.
This range that could have taken the plane into central Asia or, via a southern route, far out over the Indian Ocean. (See red arcs at right)
It’s certainly possible — some people believe probable — that the jet crashed in deep water. US investigators currently seem to believe this.
But why would anyone want to meticulously plan and execute the theft of a plane and then fly it 7 hours only to crash it in the ocean?
Unless you wanted to try to make the plane or its passengers or its cargo disappear forever (possible, but why?), it seems unlikely that you would go to this trouble. If you just wanted to kill everyone, you could crash anywhere, anytime. And the sooner you crashed, the better, because the less likely that someone on board would discover you and foil your plot.
That the person or people who took control of the Malaysia jet flew the plane for at least 7 hours after they switched the transponder off, therefore, would seem to raise a very real possibility that they did not want to crash the plane, but, instead, wanted to fly it somewhere.
Over the weekend, we published a map created by WNYC that shows all the runways within the plane’s range that could handle a jet of this size. It’s possible that the jet was headed for one of these or another makeshift runway created for the purpose of this one landing (and, possibly, another takeoff).
Some, including Jeff Wise of Slate, have speculated that the plane’s destination was Central Asia — somewhere in China, perhaps, or Pakistan. Today, a theory was floated that the plane slipped through land-based radar by shadowing another jet. More likely, perhaps, the radar operators just ignored its blip, the same way the Malaysian radar operators did.
But why steal a plane a fly it somewhere? And what of the passengers and crew?
Some obvious reasons to steal a plane would be to:
1) Sell the plane or its parts
2) Transport someone or something somewhere (on this trip or another)
3) Procure a 777 to use later
If the goal was to sell the plane or its parts, good luck. This plane and its parts will now be the hardest plane and parts to fence on the planet.
If the goal was to transport someone or something, stealing a full commercial airliner in mid-air seems a complicated way to do it. If mere transportation was the goal, moreover, the job would probably be complete by now, and we might have already gotten some indication of what happened to the plane and its crew.
If the goal was to use the passengers as hostages to demand something, it also seems likely that we would have heard news by now. More than week has gone by.
That leaves the third option — procuring a 777 to use later, with or without using the passengers as hostages (or shields). If this was the plan, the execution of the first part of the plan was truly brilliant: While investigators were scouring the ocean for wreckage, the perpetrators could have landed, refueled the plane, and flown it almost anywhere. And they could now be poised to carry out the second part of the plan.
Some have speculated that the next mission for the plane might be an attack of some sort. If the plane has indeed flown somewhere undetected, this speculation seems reasonable. And the questions that would follow, of course, would be 1) an attack on what? 2) when?, 3) how? (with a bomb on board — or just the plane?), and 4) with or without the passengers?
If you assume that this whole plan was drawn up and executed with extreme care, which it seems to have been, it is reasonable to assume that the second part of the plan would have been equally well thought out. So, unfortunately, it does not seem inconceivable that, at some point in the near future, the world might discover the missing Malaysian jet by spotting it on radar again, perhaps flying toward a major city. If that happens, the next question will be whether the passengers and crew are on board. If they are, the local government might face the choice of shooting down a 777 loaded with most of its passengers and crew… or allowing the plane to continue to fly on toward whatever destination it is headed for whatever purpose its pilots have in mind.
The motivations for such a plan seem hard to fathom, at least given what is so far known about the passengers and crew of Malaysia 340. So let’s hope this possibility is as unlikely as it would have sounded a week ago.
One thing seems probable:
The more time that elapses, the more likely it would seem to be that the jet crashed in the ocean. If someone was brilliant enough to plan and execute the theft of a 777 in mid-air and land the jet on some remote runway with some future plot in mind, that someone is probably also brilliant enough to realise that the more time that goes by, the more likely it is that the plane will be discovered.
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