I’ve got more interest than usual in this, as I happened to be on a ‘plane in the same airspace a few hours afterwards. It makes you think while waiting to board in Singapore.
Three days later, no wreckage has been found and there are rumours of the aircraft changing course. Hijack? That’s what it looks like to me, based on the facts released. First off, there was no distress call. The same was true of the Air France 477 in 2009 (discounting the automated transmissions), but that was way out over the ocean a long way in to the flight; MH370 had only recently departed and was in crowded airspace, in range of ATC and showing up on civil radar.
Much was made of the passengers travelling on stolen passports; given that part of the world I’d be surprised if there weren’t several on every flight out of KL. If it was a terrorist attack, someone would have claimed it by now anyway. And if it was external hijackers, the crew would have raised the alarm.
So what could have happened? The release of the final radio message is a huge clue – they were handing over from Malaysia to Vietnam, mid-way across the sea. Hand-overs are important – they say goodbye, change frequency and says hello. Only the goodbye happened.
If the aircraft had suffered a very sudden and catastrophic failure, the wreckage would be floating on the ocean below at that point. So that leaves the aircrew. They could have turned off the transponder and done what they liked.
If external agents had hijacked an aircraft the pilots would have triggered the hijack alarm on the transponder and made a distress call. They were in radar range, and radio range. And the security on the cockpit door would have allowed them time.
If I was flying an aircraft and wanted to take it over, mid-sea on ATC handover would be the obvious place to do it. Malaysia wouldn’t expect contact because they’d left; Vietnam wouldn’t notice loss of contact because none had been made; they’d assume they were still talking to Malaysia. Just speculating out loud…
Only military radar would be taking any interest in the aircraft, and in that part of the world you bet they were watching but don’t really want to talk about it.