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The Hijack of Flight MH370

World Affairs, Perceptions

I have long made a practice of prognosticating and commenting on issues involving aviation by virtue of my background as a former jet fighter and transport (C-130) pilot. But I must admit this one has me stumped. There is no doubt Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 was hijacked, probably but not necessarily by one or both flight crew members--pilot and/or co-pilot. The problem is not what happened, but why.

The what is clear because the aircraft transponder and a flight data reporting system were turned off 12 minutes before the final voice transmission from the pilot. The key equipment was the transponder or SIF. A transponder is a device that replies to an interrogation with data. The SIF, which stands for Selective Identification Feature, responds with a selectible four-digit code when interrogated by a radio frequency signal. It is used by Air Traffic Control to uniquely identify various aircraft. The response codes are displayed on the ATC scopes.

As a matter of interest, this system dates back to World War II and the advent of radar early in that conflict. The problem was telling the good guys from the bad so you didn't shoot down a friend. This problem was solved by the development of IFF, which stood for Identification--Friend or Foe.  The early IFF's used a two-digit code, 00 to 77. Why 77 is lost in the murk of history, but probably had something to due with the octal numbering system favored by IBM. The codes would be changed daily.

After the war, the system was adapted for civilian use, the code set expanded to four 0-7 digits to allow for the unique identification of many aircraft under ATC monitoring. A unique application incorporated later was a  special hijack code, which was 7777. What was neat was the fact that code digits were selected by thumbwheels set close together so that all four could be rotated upward, selecting all 7's, by sliding the palm of the hand forward. It was not necessary to look.

I'm sure modern airliners have equipment considerably different from what I was used to in the planes I flew umpteen years ago, but the principle would be the same.

In the case of MH370, the hijack 7777 code was not activated, suggesting crew complicity. What is equally mystifying is the flight path, identified by line of position (LOP) determination by a satellite. This identified the likely flight path as either circular northward over parts of India and possibly China into the southern Arabian peninsula, or southward over water toward Australia. The northern route is unlikely due to probable detection by ground radar. The southward path was largely over the Indian Ocean to nowhere.

Some large pieces of possible wreckage have been detected by visual satellite west of Australia, approximately at the limit of the aircraft's fuel. It seems likely to me that MH370 flew southward overwater to nowhere and ran out of fuel, crashing into the ocean with the loss of all aboard.

This whole scenario makes no sense, as there is no apparent motive. If this was a suicide effort, why fly for hours and hundreds of miles? If it was a hostage incident, where were they going? There were 160 Chinese citizens aboard out of 229 total. What nation or terrorist group would want them? Certainly not Iran, the home country of both pilots. China is a friend to a number of the Middle Eastern terrorist-supporting countries, especially Iran who certainly would not want to antagonize their Chinese friends. And what would the Taliban or Hezbollah do with that mess?

I'm sorry, but for the first time in my memory, I have no plausible theory, except an act of irrational and evil insanity. There is little doubt that MH370 and its crew and passengers are lost. The hours-long flight must have been an horrific experience for the passengers. I suppose in this secular paradise of an un-Christian world anything is possible. We may never know the real reason why.

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