One of the great aviation mysteries centers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared on March 18, 2014, after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. With little debris recovered, and never a body, we can safely assume the 239 on board are deceased. Their fate has been variously tied to homicidal pilots, black holes, and alien abduction.
Meanwhile, the Netflix series MH370: The Plane That Disappeared centers on two conspiracy theories, one championed by aviation journalist Jeff Wise and the other proposed by French newspaper reporter Florence de Changy. Both doubt the consensus conclusion that the plane plunged into the Southern Indian Ocean. Wise believes Russians hijacked the plane, while de Changy maintains that the U.S. government shot it down.
The few pieces of common ground include that the plane departed at 1:19 a.m. on the fateful morning. And the final contact between the pilot at air traffic control came just moments later when the tower told him to contact air traffic control in Vietnam. The pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, responded, “Good night. Malaysian Three Seven Zero.” Two minutes later, the plane disappeared from radar and voice contact but took up permanent residence in aviation lore.
Suspicion for what happened has ranged from the mundane to the malevolent to the farcical. In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, J.D. Sword wrote that the BBC quoted Malaysian Air Force Chief Rodzali Daud as saying radar signals showed the airplane may have turned around. Supporting this is the Thai military claiming to have intercepted a radar signal from an unknown aircraft turning west toward the Strait of Malacca. Additionally, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid’s cellphone pinged off a cell tower on Penang Island. Piecing this together, investigators concluded the flight lasted until around 8:19 before the aircraft exhausted its fuel supply and crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
As the involvement of nefarious Russian or American agents, Wise and de Changy provide little in the way of evidence. They merely dismiss the radar data and insist the satellite information has been falsified. Physical debris is likewise dismissed, with the duo claiming it was planted. This is needless conjecture and supported by noting in the way of tangible proof.
Wise blames the Russians, pointing out that four months later, they shot down a second Malaysian flight over Ukraine. However, this conclusion is based on the appeal to incredulity and post hoc reasoning. He says, “It seemed like an incredible coincidence” and that “When MH370 happened it had the desirable effect of stopping anybody from talking about Russia’s invasion of Crimea.” Besides the aforementioned logical fallacies, this ignores the Law of Truly Large Numbers and represents a common conspiracy theory trait of tying together two disparate events by claiming one is a distraction for the other.
Wise makes an additional claim that Russians hijacked the plane remotely. However, Sword quoted Fuad Sharuji, former crisis director for Malaysia Airlines, as explaining, “Anyone who gets into the hatch can disable the transponder and disable the communications systems, but it is impossible to fly the aircraft from the avionics compartment.”
Meanwhile, de Changy believes the U.S. Air Force shot down MH370 to prevent delivery of electronics to Beijing since American feared China would purloin the technology. Again, this ties together two events without offering evidence. No, the U.S. would not want China to get American technology, and yes, a flight en route to Beijing went down. The French journalist offers little in the way of showing that these facts are connected.
As to recovered debris, she cites a secret source, who allegedly told her the plane’s identification plate was missing and that those are only removed on decommissioned planes. Therefore, the source deduces, the recovered parts were planted. However, Sword notes that eight items were identified from MH370 that were consistent with a Boeing 777-200ER. Moreover, an investigative team analyzed debris consisting of an engine cowling piece and an interior panel piece from an aircraft cabin, again the type found on this kind of aircraft.
In sum, Wise and de Changy’s wild speculations have gotten us no closer to determining what caused the crash or why communications disappeared.