6:17 pm - Thursday November 5, 2015

MH370: no stone unturned, no conspiracy unconsidered

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Bangkok: The hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has found almost nothing since the plane went missing on March 8, leaving fertile ground for conspiracy theorists, but little comfort for the bereaved going into 2015. The only silver lining? Even the weirdest theories offer some hope of shedding light on the mystery.

“It’s the not knowing where, how or why that continually haunts you,” Australian mother of three, Danica Weeks, whose husband, John, was on the plane, wrote on Perthnow.com. “Every waking minute, your mind runs scenarios of what might have happened.”

In such circumstances, it is quite common for distressed people to turn to unorthodox explanations, according to experts.

“When a lack of conclusive information leaves a factual vacuum after a headline-grabbing event, conspiracy theorists rush to fill it,” psychologist Rob Brotherton wrote in New Scientist in March.

In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, their take ranges from the relatively plausible [perhaps the plane was hijacked, or destroyed by a bomb] to nonsensical [it was abducted by aliens or made invisible using advanced technology].”

In Vietnam, the disappearance of MH370, an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, along with the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 over Ukraine weeks later, created a new superstition against the number ‘seven’, putting it on the same level as the number ‘four’ in Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. Web pages dedicated to conspiracy theories also sprang up, some pointing specifically to the absence of any clues as a strong indication of a thorough cover-up.

If the plane had crashed into the sea, “it would have broken into tens of thousands of pieces”, at least some of which would have been spotted or washed up on a beach, according to www.eyeopening.info.

Planes “don’t just disappear”, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote on his blog, “certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras.”

Boeing, the makers of the 777 model aircraft, had patented a system to disengage control from the cockpit, and guide a plane back to a predetermined location in a hijack or other emergency.

“Could it not be that the pilot of MH370 lost control after someone directly or remotely activated this equipment,” such as the CIA, Mahathir wrote.

Despite no group claiming responsibility, some were initially quick to blame Islamic extremists.

The incident “confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China,” newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted. “Chance for US to make common cause [allies], befriend China.”

Several experts said that the most likely explanation was a combination of accident and human error, such as a cockpit fire that may have rendered crew unconscious.

Captain Zaharie Shah also came under scrutiny. Some news reports noted that he had made no commitments for the time after the disappearance and was experiencing tensions with his partner.

“It is very sad,” said a colleague who asked to be named only as Mohammad. “As long as no debris is found, the cloud of suspicion will always be there,” he told dpa, stressing that he was certain Zaharie had “nothing to do with the disappearance.”

Tim Clark, chief executive of Emirates Airline, pointed out that every accident over water in the history of civil aviation — with the exception of Amelia Earhart’s 1939 disappearance — left at least some clues behind.

MH370 simply disappeared, he told Spiegel magazine. “For me, that’s suspicious,” he said.

Delayed and contradictory public announcements only added to the mystery, opening room for speculation and accusations of cover-ups.

For example, a fresh analysis of satellite “handshakes” with the plane opened a new search area, but details were not released by Malaysian authorities until weeks after the disappearance, raising questions.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has responded to all the questions by establishing “a consensus with the industry to develop global monitoring of all traffic to improve the response in similar cases,” the body’s head, Raymond Benjamin, told news.com.au.

Conspiracy theories can help the search, one expert said, when there is so little hard data.

“If you take one theory, the aeroplane would be where we’re looking at right now,” David Soucie, a former inspector with the US Federal Aviation Authority, told CNN in March. “If you take another theory, where there was nefarious intent, they’re trying to avoid radars, the aeroplane could be somewhere else.”

The next stage of the search, the mapping of 60,000 square kilometres of sea bed 1,200 kilometres south-west of Perth, could be complete by May, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said this month.

The centre declined to say what would happen if no trace were found by then, the Perth Sunday Times reported.

“And what do I hope for in 2015?” Weeks asked in her first-person piece on Perthnow.com. “That they find something, anything.”

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