Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 12:42 a.m. local time, the Boeing 777 that captured the world’s attention by vanishing took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The airplane, identified by the Malaysian Airlines flight number MH370, was scheduled to arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:30 a.m., but it vanished from radar at 1:21 a.m.
The subsequent search operation was one of the most exhaustive in history. The Malaysian authorities initiated a botched inquiry on the scene immediately. The Australian government, which possesses stronger naval investigative resources, directed the search at sea. Eventually, private businesses and a number of other governments would enter the hunt with the express objective of locating any evidence of MH370.
Regrettably, nothing was accomplished. In addition to having a general understanding of where the jet crashed in the southern Indian Ocean and recovering some wreckage on the islands of Réunion and Madagascar, the official cause of MH370’s deviated flight route and subsequent disaster remains unknown. At this time, it seems unlikely that the plane’s “black box” will ever be located, and even if it is, the data it contains will be of little use.
The apparent irreversible disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is tragic because the loved ones of its 239 passengers will likely never obtain the closure they deserve. In the absence of assurance on any given subject, the dark shadow of undiscovered conspiracy can creep into the story.
As previously indicated, the first episode of MH370: The Aircraft That Disappeared, “The Pilot,” is largely accurate. This episode demonstrates the most common and evidence-backed theory: that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah grabbed control of the aircraft from his rookie co-pilot and flew it off-course in a planned act of mass murder/suicide.
The show does a good job of covering the basics, but it fails to convey one crucial point that allowed future conspiracy theories to grow. The Malaysian government, which was tasked with investigating this unusual aviation incident, was dishonest, defensive, and hesitant to disclose vital information.
All governments of the world are corrupt to some degree. No one can ever be assured that, when politics are involved, government officials will not attempt to save their own asses instead of conducting a thorough investigation of a disaster. The documentary depicts the irritation of Chinese residents with the Malaysian government (the majority of the crash’s fatalities were Chinese), but the truth is that almost everyone involved in the subsequent search was as upset with Malaysian officials.
Malaysia lied frequently and from the beginning of the MH370 probe. It wasn’t necessarily because it had something to hide, but rather because automatically obscuring the truth is a tenet of crony-based despotic political systems.
The author of the aforementioned Atlantic article, William Langewiesche, describes a close observer of Malaysia’s response as saying, “It became evident that the Malaysians’ principal purpose was to make the subject go away. There was an innate bias against openness and transparency from the beginning, not because they were hiding some deep, dark secret, but because they did not know where the truth lay and were scared that something embarrassing might be revealed. Were they hiding something? Yes. They were attempting to conceal the unknown.”
Inmarsat, a British commercial satellite operator, knew early on that MH370 had deviated significantly from its flight path, veering sharply west and then doing a U-turn after entering Vietnamese airspace rather than continuing north. Malaysia was aware of this information based on data from its own military radar, but it did not admit it publicly until one week after the disaster. Seven precious days were wasted seeking for the plane in the incorrect area of the ocean.
Although the initial search for Flight 370 was unsuccessful, Malaysia started its own inquiry into the passengers and crew. According to the article in The Atlantic, the classified study (which was only published when it was leaked) did not contain everything known about Captain Zaharie.
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