Hiding in Pakistan? (Ring a Bell?)
Retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney was on FOX News asserting that Boeing thinks the missing 777 is in Pakistan. As you know, the Bear has believed that the airplane was hijacked, possibly by the pilot, and landed safely somewhere.
Pakistan would be a slight stretch according to fuel estimates floating around online, but since I have not seen exactly how much fuel was put on board, these are at best educated guesses based on normal operations. And, by the way, why haven't we seen the fuel document? There has to be a copy; the pilot must sign off on it, since it is ultimately his responsibility that the airplane has the required fuel. Same for the cargo manifest. Was there anything on board that would make the theft of an entire airliner worthwhile?
As for fuel estimates, until we get the actual numbers, guesses based on normal operations mean nothing. Extra fuel might very well have been loaded aboard. Limiting fuel to cover your destination and various contingencies is primarily just a matter of economy. You don't want to burn expensive fuel to carry the weight of fuel you don't really need. It isn't like the airplane couldn't take off with extra fuel and have a much greater range. The 777 is the longest-ranged commercial airliner in history.
The change in course occurred twelve minutes before the co-pilot acknowledged a routine hand-off from one controller to the next with the normal "Good night." If this was a hijacking, he was either under duress or in on the plot. But if under duress, there are ways he could have secretly signaled the fact. And if you're going to steal an airplane, doing it in the "gap" after you are handed off, but before you check in with the new controller would seem to be the best time to do it. This comes amid reports that Israel is taking extra precautions with its air defense.
Meanwhile, once again, reports of wreckage have proved to be a bust.
Of course, Pakistan claims it is impossible for a 777 to have slipped into its airspace undetected. Pakistan, it should be pointed out, is not the most reliable partner. Osama bin Laden lived their for years next door to their version of West Point, and they are sometime partners with the Taliban against our troops in Afghanistan. (They supply IEDs. Oh, you didn't know that either?)
Why Would Islamic Terrorists Want a 777?
There are at least five airstrips in Taliban-controlled Pakistan capable of handling a 777. It's time to observe that Malaysia is 65% Moslem, and the flight crew was Moslem. Then there were the two Iranians on board with stolen passports. That whole part of the world is a mess. There have been unhappy incidents with Moslems and commercial airliners in the past. The Bear is hoping someone besides the Malaysians is digging hard and deep into the contacts and attitudes of this captain and first officer.
What could the Taliban do with a 777 (and a motivated pilot)? We know what happened on 9-11 with smaller airplanes not specially prepared as piloted cruise missiles. How would it sneak to a target? Remember, despite all the talk of radar, commercial airliners are normally tracked only by a transponder. That's just a transmitter that pings a four-digit number assigned by the controller and dialed in by the flight crew. If that's turned off, the plane becomes invisible to controllers. What military radar might see depends on a lot of things such as coverage and altitude. And picking out a rogue 777 from among thousands of flights in busy air corridors would be nearly impossible. (Remember how everything was grounded after the 9-11 attacks. It's the only way.)
A fully-fueled 777-200ER can fly nonstop from Chicago to Seoul, Korea or London to LAX, i.e. 7725 nautical miles. Or, more to the point, from Pakistan to New York City or Washington D.C. Of course, Israel, or the Vatican, for that matter, is much closer. We need to solve this mystery quickly. We will find this airplane. Of course, if it is terrorism, they know that, too.
And therein is the answer to the biggest objection to the Bear's theory: if it was hijacked, why has no one taken credit, or issued a ransom demand? It wasn't that kind of hijacking.
Counter-Theories Debunked, Sketchy Behavior and One Possible Ending
Having said all this, the most popular "startlingly simple theory" is that the plane experienced a fire, and the the course change was a diversion toward the nearest runway of sufficient length: Palau Langkawi, on a Malaysian island. The theory is explained in Wired here. And debunked in Slate here. It does not adequately account for everything we know.
Just too much just doesn't make sense. Airplanes have gone down before, even in the middle of the ocean. Air France 447 went down in the Atlantic in 2009. We had wreckage within five days. It's been over two weeks. But the main thing is that too many governments are acting sketchy on this one. To put it bluntly: we're not being told everything they know. Complicating things is that everyone has enormous interests at stake. Boeing will blame the pilot to protect the reputation of its $260-million dollar airplane. Pilots will stick up for pilots. Malaysia doesn't want the reputation of an unstable Moslem-majority country with untrustworthy aviation.
I feel very sorry for the families of the passengers and crew. It must be agonizing to just not know. I still hold out a ray hope, though, that the passengers are alive, and may yet return home. But I feel the only way that will happen is at the end of a dramatic rescue by American soldiers.