Planes don’t just disappear
The has probably not been a more harrowing mystery behind a fallen airliner than that of Malaysia Air Flight 370. In a previous post, I wrote my initial theory: that the plane had suffered some catastrophic structural failure and went down, rather than the farfetched terrorist theories that had been raised by the media. However, the evidence since then seems to point almost undeniably towards some form of foul play, possibly a hijacking or some other sinister motives that the pilots may have taken with them to their grave.
In recent days a very well thought out theory by Chris Goodfellow, a real life pilot, has made the rounds, alleging that the plane suffered a fire emergency which resulted in the crew switching off many of the electrical systems and proceeding to the nearest large runway they could find: Palau Langkawii, an island off the north-west coast of Malaysia with an international airport. This island just so happens to have been exactly on the flight path that the plane took once it veered off to a different direction at which point, according to Goodfellow, the pilots and the passengers died of asphyxiation while the plane cruised on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. I like the argument, and it is certainly a superior scenario to those brought forth by the conspiracy theorists and the alarmist media. Unfortunately it suffers from various flaws, the first and most obvious being that the plane did not simply travel west: at some point after crossing the peninsula, it veered north west and then gave its last satellite ping somewhere along two possible arcs, neither of which cross the area where it would have crashed if Goodfellow’s theory were to be correct. Continue reading
A tragedy made worse by ignorance
As an aviation enthusiast, I find the media coverage of the Malaysia Air Flight 370 disaster to be absolutely appalling. Indeed air crashes of the magnitude of this tragedy inevitably lend themselves to innumerable theories, and the curiosity of what could go wrong. This is undoubtedly a morbid curiosity, feeding off of our innate fear of being in an element that we do not command. For all its technological sophistication – and few man-made machines equal that of a modern commercial airliner – the fact that a giant airplane can crash into the sea under seemingly the most benign circumstances is enough to give even a non-aerophobe a chill. What doesn’t help is that the media hasn’t done its homework and have fed us quite a significant amount of misinformation over the last few hours. Worse yet, they have seemingly settled on the terrorism story as their conspiracy theory of choice despite the fact the evidence is strongly against this.
Mistake number one: read a map, stupid!
The first and most appalling of the media’s misinformation is the claim that “contact was lost 2 hours into the flight”. The source for this mistake is that Subang ATC (Malaysian air traffic control) reported at 2:40am local time to the airline that the plane had gone missing. Yet a gap of over one hour occurred since the plane’s last contact, at around 1:20am. This was the last sighting captured by radar and it is not clear what happened next: whether the plane effectively crashed right at the edge of coverage, or whether it crashed shortly after, in the radar gap between Malaysian and Vietnamese ATCs. According to an unconfirmed Chinese report, Malaysian ATC reported the plane making a steep drop in altitude and changing its heading. However, not much was made of this since it was at the edge of radar coverage when radar readings can get iffy. If true, however, it suggests that something happened at this point, and that the plane both plunged and changed course shortly before crashing into the sea. Continue reading
The Crimea: a 21st century Sudetenland
Leave it to Vladimir Putin to spoil what had otherwise been one of the few truly positive developments in global politics of the past few months. It’s not often that you get a corrupt power-hungry goon like Viktor Yanukovych out of power through the most democratic means possible: mass protests. But when it happens in a nation that borders Putin’s increasingly assertive and imperialistic Russia there’s bound to be trouble, especially when the guy who got ousted was the guy who was pushing for closer links between his country and his former overlords. Add when said nation holds one of the most coveted pieces of geo-strategic real estate in the Black Sea area, the Crimean peninsula, then things start getting ugly. Add to this the West’s inability to deal with Putin, then you have the potential for disaster.
The Crimea in history
A little history first. The Crimean peninsula has been throughout human history, one of the most important cross-roads of empires from East and West. The Greeks had founded settlements there, and it became a Roman province during the Empire’s heyday. Subsequently, the Byzantines maintained a presence on the peninsula but this gradually gave way as the Italian city states grew more powerful, and their commercial interests began spreading far from the Mediterranean. First it was the Venetians, later the Genovese, who controlled numerous coastal cities, although by this time most of the peninsula was ruled by the Golden Horde (the Mongol Khanate that ruled over much of present-day European Russia). It is here where an interesting nugget of history took place: the outbreak of plague in the 14th century while the Horde was laying siege to the Genovese city of Kaffa. The Genovese sailors who escaped the siege would bring the plague back to Italy where it spread like wildfire over the next few years, killing a third of Europe’s population and altering the continent’s history forever. Continue reading