Saturday, a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 did something almost unheard of in modern times..it simply vanished.
Flight MH 370 was en route from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia to Beijing,China with 239 passengers. It never arrived, there's no indication so far what happened to it and a wide scale international search is underway.
For an airliner to simply disappear like this is almost unheard of, because of the modern tracking technology involved. Aside from the now routine radar, every airliner contains a flight recorder and a transponder which emit electronic signals, as well as an emergency location beacon, a highly durable electronic signaling device to enable an airliner to be quickly located if something unexpected occurs.
And if trouble occurred in midair en route, the pilot would normally communicate with the control tower, either by voice radio or electronic distress signal. Whatever happened had to have occurred instantaneously.
Ever odder, the plane appears to have changed course without notifying authorities, turning west. It's possible the pilot was attempting to return back towards Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (SAAS) Airport to the northwest. The plane was last seen above the small island of Pulau Perak, miles off course. Even if there was a mechanical failure that necessitated aborting the flight and making an emergency landing, normal procedure is to radio it in, or at least activate the electronic distress signal.
No debris has been found either, which is also highly unusual. An Air France jet was lost in similar circumstances over the Atlantic in 2009, but debris was spotted the next day. It took a year and a half to locate the flight recorders and remains of the fuselage on the ocean floor,but that was in much deeper water. The waters off Vietnam and in the Malacca straits in the area in question are much shallower and the waters are much clearer, and in this case not even any of the normal debris has been found yet.
Another occurrence that has attracted attention is that two Iranians, 19-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad and 29-year-old Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza were traveling together on the plane with stolen passports and travel documents that would have allowed them to proceed from Beijing to Europe. According to Interpol, the two men knew each other and had traveled to Malaysia from Tehran using their Iranian passports, but obtained stolen Italian and Austrian passports,both of which were reported stolen by the real owners in Thailand.
This appears to be merely a coincidence. Both men were planning on relocating to Europe, had tickets purchased in Kuala Lumpur for their journey to Beijing and Amsterdam and planned to travel together. Nourmohammadi planned to proceed from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, where his mother lives and Seyedmohammaderza's intended final destination was Copenhagen, Denmark.
Stolen passports are a fairly common item in that part of the world, and these were probably purchased on the black market for cash.There is a large expatriate Iranian community in Kuala Lumpur.According to initial reports, the price for these was $10,000 American.
That doesn't rule out terrorism in the least,but it does rule out these two as active participants.
Here are the things that immediately strike me:
So is the fact that, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, at least five ticketed passengers failed to board the plane, though it's unclear if any of those individuals tried to check luggage for the flight or if any bags under their names were removed from the aircraft before it left Malaysia.
The tickets for the two Iranians were purchased - in cash - in Thailand at the resort of the resort of Pattaya from a Thai travel agent on March 1 by an Iranian businessperson she knew only as 'Mr. Ali'.
According to what the travel agent told the Finncial Times, She had booked them on other airlines but those reservations expired and on March 6, Mr Ali had asked her to rebook them.
This sparks my interest because it comes right out of the terrorism 101 textbook - establish a relationship with a local travel agent willing to book flights for cash on short notice, no questions asked...and then do flights as dry runs to test airport security measures and to get jihadis familiar with the layout of targeted planes.
As a matter of fact al-Qaeda has used this tactic several times.
This could very easily have been such a dry run that ended up lowing up in someone's face a little prematurely. It would certainly be interesting to have authorities investigate 'Mr. Ali' thoroughly to see whom he's really is and look at other airline tickets he's purchased. And let's also remember that the tickets and the stolen passports both came from Thailand. I doubt that's a coincidence.
For now, what happened to Flight MH 370 remains a mystery, but I think that when we find out what happened I wouldn't be surprised to find the answer along these lines.