Did the Pilot Do it? Final MH370 Report Revives Suspicions of Foul Play

The Malaysian government's last statement on the disappearance of Flight 370 leaves a million open questions.

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  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014. More than 200 people were on board.
  • Clues led investigators to hunt for the Boeing 777 in the remote southern Indian Ocean.
  • But after four years of fruitless searching, the Malaysia investigators officially concluded the hunt this year with the plane still missing.

    The release of a long-awaited report ( more than four years ago. Declaring that “the team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370,” the safety panel nonetheless said that the evidence it does have “points irresistibly to unlawful interference.”

    "A human being had to make those inputs."

    Translation: They think someone aboard hijacked the plane, but have no firm evidence to back that up. And while this is the investigation's "final" report, a ton of questions remain wide open.

    Figuring Out Foul Play

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    MH370 debris recovered
    Getty ImagesYannick Pitou

    The nearly 500-page tome was a necessary last step before Malaysia could formally conclude its probe, and the big report lays out the course of the investigation as well as the various theories it examined. With the ocean search for the wreckage suspended indefinitely, the panel’s unsatisfying conclusion has further dimmed hopes for ever finding the errant plane and the 239 people aboard. And while more than 25 possible pieces of debris have washed up, just three have been confirmed to be from the doomed plane. Nothing has surfaced recently, and studying the flotsam hasn’t produced much to go on.

    It’s not surprising the Malaysia-based accident investigators would continue to cling to the sabotage theory. Frankly, it seems inexplicable that a modern 777 could drop off radar an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, and then, with the transponder disabled for unexplained reasons, fly for more than five hours after its last with civilian air traffic control. For those reasons, foul play jumped to the top of the list of possible explanations right after the disappearance on March 8, 2014.

    Of course, the Malaysian government may have had its own reasons for strongly supporting the view that this was a criminal act. It came under criticism for the inadequate response of air traffic controllers when the plane lost , and for not disclosing that military controllers had reportedly spotted the plane. Even so, several safety experts have also long argued that what we know about the 777’s zig-zagging route after it dropped from radar suggests that this was not an accident. “A human being had to make those inputs,” says John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board who has followed the case closely.

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    AFP/Getty Images

    Kok Soo Chon, the lead investigator in Malaysia, explained in a briefing that the plane’s change of course to fly over the Indian Ocean was made under manual control, which he said “points irresistibly to unlawful interference.” “We have carried out simulator sessions to determine how the aircraft turned back and we can confirm that the turn-back was made, not under autopilot, but was made under manual control, “ he explained, adding that this “was not because of anomalies in the mechanical system.”

    He did not, however, specifically accuse the captain or first officer of the plane, saying “we can also not exclude the possibility that there’s unlawful interference by a third party.” He then went on to say the probe did not turn up any evidence implicating the flight crew. And just who a “third party” capable of pulling off this act might be? That question was left unaddressed.

    The Alternative Explanations

    U.S. Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Matthew Walton sprays down a P-8A Poseidon with before its flight to assist in search and rescue operations for MH370.
    U.S. Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Matthew Walton sprays down a P-8A Poseidon with before its flight to assist in search and rescue operations for MH370.
    U.S. Navy / Getty Images

    What about other possibilities, such as fire caused by over-heating lithium batteries (which the 777 was carrying as cargo, along with a sizable shipment of mangosteen fruit)? Or a sudden decompression, causing hypoxia? The report raises these scenarios but systemically rules them out as implausible.

    However, several serious investigators continue to support the latter theory. In her recent book , Christine Negroni explains how decompression and hypoxia could induce the sorts of actions that led the plane on its wild ride. The captain “knew there was a problem but didn’t have the brain processing power to act appropriately,” this week. “This explains why he turned in one direction then another before passing out as the plane headed into the world’s most remote sea.”

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    In its own defense of the pilots, the Malaysian government referred to the Royal Malaysian Police forensic report on the captain’s simulator that was found in his home, which previously raised concerns he had “practiced” his last flight. “It did not find any data that showed the aircraft was performing climb, attitude, or heading maneuvers, nor did they find any data that showed a similar route flown by MH370,” the investigators said at the briefing. They also noted that background checks of the flight crew turned up no evidence of any psychological or financial problems that could have played a role.

    Case Not Closed

    Still, some experts said that didn’t tell the whole story. “Until they really release what they found on the captain’s computer, we won’t know the answer,” said one source familiar with the investigation who asked not to be quoted by name due to the legal implications of the matter.

    Others agree that an intentional act by a crewmember can't be ruled out. "I still think to this day that it was a malicious act," said Capt. Mark Weiss, who flew 777s during his years as an airline pilot and has spoken out frequently on the case. "Nothing really has changed."

    As for gaining closure, the families of the 239 people aboard say that it won’t come until the plane is found. It's not over until MH370 is found. "Therefore there can be no final report until MH370 is FOUND and this can be prevented," Grace Nathan, whose mother was aboard MH370. "The search must go on.”

    It's not over until MH370 is found. Therefore there can be No final report until MH370 is FOUND and this can be prevented.

    The Search Must Go On.

    — Grace S. Nathan (@gracesnathan)
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