My son Henry, who has been an airline geek since he was a little boy, thinks the 777 airliner which has been missing since March 8th is on the ground somewhere in China or central Asia.

He says whoever took it wanted the $205.5-$260.5 million airplane (or $34.5-$54 million on the used market) for another purpose, and it is probably being repainted for future use to impersonate the company colors of one of the 52 airlines which fly this particular type of aircraft in its several variants.

800px-Emirates_Boeing_777-300EREmirates operates the largest 777 fleet with 87 aircraft; Singapore Airlines operates the second-biggest fleet with 66 aircraft; Air France has 58 777s; United Airlines has 52. As of August 2013, 1,467 Boeing 777s, of all variants, were ordered, and 1,127 were delivered. There’s a lot of protective cover in that forest.

If the airplane was invisible to tracking when it disappeared, it could be invisible to tracking until just before it reappears on who-knows-what mission… but probably not benign.

With enough fuel to reach Beijing, it could have flown as far as central Asia. The fact that the latest “ping” from the jet’s satellite communication system was picked up 7 hours after the plane’s transponder was switched off suggests that the plane could have flown about 2,000 miles from its last known position (shown with the black airplane symbol below), or farther if it was fueled to capacity (Henry notes that the fueling manifest has not been released).

map-of-runways-malaysia-jet-1.pngWNYC put together this map of all the runways on which the 777 could have landed that are within the plane’s estimated range at its last point of contact. Henry says that these runways are at least 5,000 feet long, which is what is required for a 777 to land. If the goal is for the plane to take off again, it would need about 9,000 feet—but I don’t know how many of these dots meet that requirement.

It’s also possible that the jet could have landed in a desert, or anywhere else with 9,000 feet of straight, flat ground that could be used as a runway. You could put the aircraft down on a highway. A runway wouldn’t even necessarily have to be paved; hard-packed dirt would be good enough.

Jeff Wise at Slate argues persuasively that the plane might have been stolen and and reached a destination in central Asia. This seems much more logical than taking a southern route. It seems unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of seizing, hiding, and flying the jet for 7 hours if the goal was merely to kill everyone on board and commit suicide by crashing it into the ocean. If mere transportation was the goal, we might have already gotten some indication of what happened to the plane and crew.

If the goal was to use the passengers as hostages to demand something, it also seems likely that the initial demands would have been heard by now, eleven days into the mystery.

Some have said that the next mission for the plane might be an attack of some sort. If the plane has indeed been flown somewhere undetected that was ready to receive it, this speculation seems reasonable.

Henry said that he saw some rumors on the Internet that the airplane’s cargo may have included gold (the cargo manifest, as well, has not been released). If this were the case, and with China buying up most of the world’s bullion, he speculates that the plane could be on the ground in China, and that it may be harbinger that the world has a new, gold-backed reserve currency in its future.

Anything is possible in the world of speculation. To learn the real truth, we have no option but to wait.

6 Responses to “speculation”

  1. 1 Ben
    March 19, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Sorry Dan, there’s no way a 777 could land anywhere other than a substantial runway. There is a very large amount of weight concentrated on such a small surface area (of the wheels) and runways have to be of a certain strength (its called Pavement classification number, or PCN) for certain types of aircraft at certain weights to land on. In cases for the likes of a widebody aircraft such as a 777 the runways at these airports are often several feet thick of hardened concrete. Landing on a road would just go right through it, rip out the undercarriage and cause all types of carnage !
    I think if the aircraft flew anywhere near heavily defended airspace (such as the United states, UK, Russia, India etc) it would be shot down long before it could do any damage. They can still be seen very clearly on primary radar, that is, if somebody is watching ! Unlike Malaysia at the time off this disappearance…

    The whole case makes for interesting speculation, such a strange disappearance… Could have been anything innocent too, such as a fire and an attempted diversion to nearest aerodrome then all being overcome by smoke and the aircraft flying it self out to sea, running out of fuel and crashing…

    Be interesting to find out !

  2. March 19, 2014 at 4:17 am

    I totally agree with Ben. Some countries, such as the Switzerland or the countries of Northern Europe, use portions of highways and roads to land or take off aircraft but these aircrafts are Fighters or designed aircrafts able to land on summary tracks. And these roads or portions of highways are specially designed for this. There are also aircrafts capable of landing on unprepared fields, generally operated by Airforces, but, once again, these are aircraft specially designed for this purpose. Which is not the case of aircraft such as the Boeing 777.
    If he was shot by an anti-aircraft defense system because a responsible feared to be facing a situation similar to that of the 09/11, or shoted by accident (this happened several years ago), aerial or satellite reconnaissance would have found traces of the aircraft, on the ground or on ocean’s surface. If the aircraft landed somewhere, it was necessarily on a reinforced concrete runway able to withstand its weight. But in this case, what happened to its passengers?
    It is this, the most worrisome.

  3. March 19, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Some 20 years ago, Americans would easily blame anything on Russia. Today, you do the same with China. In my experience, if there is any wrongdoing in this case, it could only be the US. 🙂 Pentagon did manage to hide that airplane allegedly hitting their own building on 9/11. And another one (with passengers). Also, there’s a lot of experience with phantom flights, led by CIA in the Balkans and all of Europe, to smuggle weapons and people.

    However, if speculating, we can go with only 3 real clues/motives – the plane, the cargo and the passengers. Hijacking a plane like that, to add it to your own fleet is not likely. You can’t use it if you don’t already own some, would be too obvious. Going through all the trouble, just to pack it with explosives and use it for attack? First, would hardly work today and second, you’d probably have much better chances doing it with a small, sports plane like a Cesna. Cargo? There are probably easier ways to get any valuables, though not concentrated like on a plane. In that case, it would’ve been too risky to just shoot it down, the cargo could’ve scattered everywhere. Landing it unsafely, on a sand or even water would be a plausible action, but you would need someone on the plane to do it and that would’ve been a suicide mission. Again, not very likely. And if there was an important passenger on the plane, surely you would not risk damaging the plane by crash landing it. And it would’ve been too public, so many people could possibly hear it or even see it.

    So, three options – it was shot, it malfuntioned or was taken and landed somewhere where you have planes come and go often enough not to cause suspicion. Public airports would’ve been risky in the middle of a night as most airports do not accept flights at that time. Except the military ones. And such an action would really require military precision and skills. So, if the plane has been hijacked, I would look for military airfields capable of taking a 777. Especially US bases in the region. Also, keeping in mind it is an American made plane, perhaps it has some (hidden) option of being refuled in md-flight. Which means it could’ve easily been taken all the way to the US. In that case, judging by the 9/11 airplane magic tricks, we will never hear of the flight or the passengers again. But, as Dan says, this is all just speculation.

  4. 4 Tom
    March 19, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Try not to read too much into the news reports. While Malaysia has not done a great job, the main news agencies have spread their own misinformation about radars, cabin depressurization, etc. 30 minutes total over the last week of listening to overpaid talking heads killed my opinion of cnn, etc. Taking a 777 to 45000 feet will not automatically depressurize a plane and kill the passengers. Depressurization at 30000 feet would nicely do the job unfortunately.

  5. March 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    If the structure of the plane remains integrated, depressurization does not necessarily mean the death of the passengers. If such a thing happened following a failure, the oxygen masks would come into service and the pilots would get off their plane to an altitude where the air is breathable, around 10 000fts. If depressurization is brutal (and even explosive) and if the structure of the plane is damaged, then it is safe to bet that the aircraft would fall quickly. The impact would cause the outbreak of distress beacons and one would not arise many questions.
    The fire is a much more credible hypothesis. A fire is not necessarily accompanied by large destructive flames and composite materials used in aircraft construction are at great fire safety risk, particularly in regard of emissions of toxic fumes. Pilots could very well die poisoned and suffocated in their cabin and the aircraft could continue to fly while losing altitude, if fire was not violent but have damaged flight equipments.
    A hijacking is possible but difficult. This aircraft needs absolutly a reinforced concrete runway to arise. With a range of nearly 7500NM (app. 14000km), there is certainly plenty of places where it could arise but it would have attracted attention. On an airfield in activity? This would immediately alerted air traffic control officials. And an arrival after normal hours would certainly attracted the attention of the peoples who works on this place, because an airport who’s able to receive such a plane is never totally asleep. On a decommissioned military base? There again, it would attracted the attention and people living nearby would talked about. On an air base in service? That would involve the authorities of a State, and it is difficult to conceive that a State is involved in a hijacking.
    The hypothesis of the aircraft shot down, intentionally or not, I have mentioned that because this has already happened in the past.

  6. 6 Ben
    March 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    This bloke writes a great simple theory about what might have happened. Reading it from a pilot prospective, and thinking “how would I handle that?” it seems very plausible and I can find few flaws.

    Of course its just one theory of many possibilities !


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