The US, Russia and China Sunday, March 16 contributed their military satellites to the search for the Malaysian Boeing 777, missing without a trace for nine days with 239 people aboard. US drones have also been diverted from the Afghanistan war to the hunt, which is focusing increasingly on the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
The backgrounds of the pilot and co-pilot and the rest of the crew are under rigorous investigation for leads. Scrutiny of the passengers, 153 of whom are Chinese, is slow since not all the foreign governments have come up with answers to questions about their nationals.
The multinational investigation is looking closely at a number of conjectures:
1. The contents of the plane’s cargo: Did it contain some illicit freight that would have given one or more hijackers a motive to seize control of the plane, force it to land at a remote spot and vanish with their prize?
That scenario would leave the fate of the passengers and crew up in the air. They may still be alive and marooned in some wild corner of the world.
2. Many parts of the Silk Road nations of Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are broad desert wastelands. They all have abandoned derelict military and air bases left over from the defunct Soviet empire. Military satellites and drones manned by experts have the best chance of pinpointing MH370 in this sort of country.
It is now believed that the last contact with MH370 was beamed from the ground, meaning that the plane had not spent hours aloft but somewhere on land, which is why the Malaysian transport minister disclosed Sunday that the search now covered “areas of land in 11 countries.”
3. The cockpit is being painstakingly searched for clues. One theory is that the hijackers lurked in the plane before the passengers boarded after they were smuggled in through the cargo hold. They may have belonged to the East Turkestan Liberation Organization-ETLO, the Uyghur separatist movement of the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang.
This conjecture opens up more complex potentials, such as the possible refueling of the airliner for use by the hijackers as an instrument of deadly massacre, echoing the 9/11 atrocities perpetrated by al Qaeda against New York and Washington.
Speculation on those lines has brought the US, Russia and China into the heart of the search and the investigation.
4. Another possibility under consideration is a sudden cyber attack on the plane. These methods are advanced enough these days to control, navigate and bring a large aircraft 75 meters long with a 61-meter wing span like the Boeing 777 down to earth almost intact at a preset location.
Iran, apparently with Chinese expert assistance, managed to bring down the RQ-170 Sentinel, America’s most secret UAV, by this method. The Israeli army downed an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards cyber team in October, 2012.
Loth to expose its advanced cyber capabilities, Israel held to the story that the Iranian drone was shot down by its fighter jets.
If the Malaysian airliner was indeed commandeered by this means, the attackers may not have intended to go all the way and were forced to think fast and decide how to end the episode without leaving incriminating leads behind them. Dumping the plane in a remote place would answer this need.
5. US intelligence and security investigators were focusing Sunday on the two pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has logged 18,000 flying hrs. on similar aircraft, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, for answers to the key conundrums of the mystery.
Both their homes in Kuala Lumpur have been searched. The flight simulator found in the captain’s home is being carefully checked for telltale flight routes.
Any possibly links in the backgrounds of the pilots to potential hijackers or terrorists would help solve the mystery of the vanished Malaysian airliner and provide a lead to its fate.