It's been nearly two years since my last blog post about MH370. There did not seem to be much purpose in doing so. The search area is concentrated on the southern end of the 7th arc, and I don't believe the airplane is anywhere near there.
I'm pretty sure that a flotilla of AUVs won't be sent near the Zenith plateau because some dude posits the debris is there based on cloud imagery at 00:00z, 20 minutes before the plane disappeared. The folks at ATSB don't have me on their speed dial. So why bother? Won't make a difference anyway.
I suffer from a nagging sense that I am right, and have been right all along. My theory has required no modification over the years even as new evidence emerges. I respectfully waited a year before sharing all the details of how I believed Capt Zaharie caused the disappearance and subsequent murder of his passengers and crew.
16:26:22z "Malaysian 370 we are ready requesting flight level three five zero to Beijing."
I've read that from the Factual Report many times. It was a few weeks ago that I connected the dots. MH370 already had FL350 in the flight plan, and was scheduled to receive that clearance from Ho Chi Minh ATC. The request for FL350 is so out of place, and so unneeded, that it sticks out.
What's the big deal?
I admit it is from a western hemisphere pilot perspective (that's my caveat that I don't know procedural stuff in the Malaysian-part of the world) that I don't understand why this unusual language was used. Normally, if asking for a higher altitude when getting a clearance, it's because the filed flight plan does not include it. The western-style pilot speak would include something like "...requesting three five zero as a final." But that sort of vernacular is reserved when the flight plan has a higher than desired altitude, and the crew simply does not need or want to climb higher, or amend the ATC instruction en route.
There will be some who disagree with my evaluation, but I stand by my many thousands of hours as a a globally experienced heavy jet pilot. It was unusual.
I have to directly answer the question of: "why does this request for FL350 seem important?" In short, because in my scenario, Z would need the time at cruising at the 35,000 to prepare his plan. He would need to prepare the cabin for the pandemonium about to be visited upon the passengers and crew by disabling the handsets (no PAs would be possible), and possibly to disable one of the emergency locator transmitters located in the main cabin. Yes, just a theory, nothing else. Haters, please understand I am only interested in teasing out clues that may help find MH370.
17:01:17 "Malaysian aaaah three seven zero maintaining flight level three five zero." Nothing unusual about that call, and it is an expected one. Captain Zaharie has just affirmed that MH370 has reached 35,000. ATC would expect that confirmation. All is normal.
Available to Zaharie would be the time he would be crossing IGARI, the last navigation waypoint prior to crossing into the Ho Chi Minh airspace (known in aviation-speak as a FIR "Flight Information Region" boundary). This is important because up to IGARI, controllers might be sitting next to each other as the aircraft is guided through the country's airspace. On the other side of that boundary, controllers are sitting in another country and another part of the world.
A controller can't lean across and query the controller seated next to them "Hey Bob, have you heard from that guy I just handed off to you?" In a FIR boundary handoff, the controller in one country calls the other, and coordinates the handoff via phone (or perhaps electronically). Once that handoff is arranged the controller handing off the aircraft is done with it. They have other matters to attend to.
On the other end of the handoff, the receiving controller is awaiting for the aircraft to verbally "check in" so the formal procedure can be completed. They have other things to do than to watch one phosphor on a radar screen. They await a radio call.
In short, the nether regions between one country and another, a FIR boundary, is an excellent place to effect a head fake—and Zaharie would know precisely when the B777 would arrive at that boundary.
17:07:56z "Malaysian eight se...three seven zero maintaining flight level three five zero."
For years I agonized over that call. I blogged about it in "MH370: An Important Change in Protocol—A Clue?" I finally realized that the call at 17:07 was FO Fariq starting to say 87...then corrected it to 370. This is not unusual. Pilots often have to read the flight number off a piece of paper, or their schedule, or put it on the screen somewhere. We simply have too many flight numbers to remember the daily changing script.
Fariq misread his note, and saw an "8" instead of a "3," but quickly corrected himself.
This is a vital clue because he should never have made an unnecessary radio call anyway. As the pilot flying (PF) that was not his job to talk on the radio. That would have fallen to Zaharie to do, and he already made the earlier call.
That suggests to me that Zaharie was not in the cockpit when young FO Fariq made the radio call. Zaharie would either have stopped him from making the unneeded call, and he would never direct him to make a call that Z had made only a few minutes before. Some suggest that this call is to drop a hint that they were looking for a hand off to Ho Chi Minh but this is geographically too early, and is pointless.
From the time stamps we know that Z was in the cockpit at 17:01z. Had to be. He made a radio call. We know that FO Fariq was in the cockpit at 17:08z, but we don't know if Zaharie was there or not. The final call, the famous "Good night" call, was Capt Zaharie, made at 17:19z. We also know from the quality of his voice that he was not wearing his oxygen mask yet (it's a distinctive Jacques-Cousteau-talking-underwater thing). That would be donned shortly.
The 18 minute spread in time from the initial call at FL350, and the last call, would allow at least 13-15 minutes for Zaharie to be in the cabin, return, then have young Fariq leave the cockpit under some instruction. Could be anything.
From there we know about the diversion, well-executed turn at the FIR boundary, and all the issues that began within a minute or so of the last known transmission by Captain Zahaire.
I cannot begin to express the disgust that envelops me when even discussing the potential that a captain, entrusted with the lives of passengers and crew, could be capable of doing such a heinous act. Yet, in the face of real, tangible facts, an honest broker of MH370 information must acknowledge that Capt. Zahaire certainly unwittingly left a few bread crumbs suggesting as much.