Wednesday 21 February 2018

Theories: Everyone from the Taliban to ethnic Uighurs being blamed

Rob Crilly Islamabad

FLIGHT MH370 has now been missing for more than 10 days and, while facts about what has happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight are in short supply, theories are not.

Could the Boeing 777 have landed somewhere, was it hijacked by remote control or did one of the pilots use it as part of a one-man political protest or suicide?

Each sounds outlandish but the truth – whenever it finally comes to light – could be equally strange. Investigators seem increasingly certain it was flown off course by someone with expert knowledge of Boeing 777s.

Satellite data indicate it could have travelled in two possible directions, either to the south across the Indian Ocean or to the north, perhaps as far as Kazakhstan.

After that comes speculation, not helped by contradictory accounts given by official bodies.

The uncertainty and possible locations to which the plane could have flown provide fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. The theory that the plane could have landed has also given relatives of passengers and crew renewed hope.

Journalists have found there may be as many as 634 runways of sufficient length within a 2,200-nautical-mile radius where MH370 could have landed.

Perhaps inspired by tweets from Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul, several news organisations reported claims that Pakistan might have been the final destination.

After all, Taliban and al-Qa'ida groups control swathes of territory along the country's border with Afghanistan. The September 11 plot to hijack American airliners was hatched in this part of the world. But to get there, Flight MH370 would have had to evade military radar set up to spot an attack from India.

Malaysian media suggest investigators are considering the possibility that the plane might have dropped as low as 5,000 feet to escape detection. That would require some serious flying skills known as "terrain masking", more usually employed by military pilots. At that time in the morning, it might have been invisible to radar, but it surely would have alerted people beneath its flight path.

Another possibility is that the plane hid in the radar shadow of another.

Keith Ledgerwood, who describes himself as an IT professional and pilot, suggests on his blog that MH370's last known manoeuvres indicate that it may have been trying to follow a Singapore Airlines 777 from the Bay of Bengal across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Even if any of this were true, where is the plane now?

North-west Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan might be under the control of militants, but hiding a wide-bodied jet from American spy drones buzzing overhead would be all but impossible.

Militants there have denied taking it. Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan have dismissed the idea that it could have flown through their airspace without anyone noticing.

Another possibility might be Kyrgyzstan. It borders western China's troubled Xinjiang province, where an ethnic Uighur population wages a separatist struggle.

A planeload of largely Chinese passengers might have made a tempting target and at least one Uighur group tried to claim responsibility.

All of which leaves us sifting through countless what-ifs and the suspicion that our desperate desire to know how a passenger jet can disappear into thin air has overtaken our demand for evidence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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