Southerly route ‘most likely’ for missing MH370, says ex-CIA agent

Screencap of former deputy director of the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) Mike Morell, who was interviewed yesterday on US broadcast programme, CBS This Morning.
Screencap of former deputy director of the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) Mike Morell, who was interviewed yesterday on US broadcast programme, CBS This Morning.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 ― Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 would have triggered the military alarms of numerous nations if it had flown a northerly course as some investigators suspect, a former US intelligence agent said.

Mike Morell said the passenger plane carrying 239 people onboard had most likely gone the southern route where it would have better chances of escaping radar detection.

“There are a lot of defence radars up there with China and India and the US and Afghanistan.

“So again, it is most likely the southern route,” the former deputy director of the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) said in an interview yesterday on US broadcast programme, CBS This Morning.

Investigators have charted two divergent paths for MH370 after the aircraft was last traced to be airborne over the Indian Ocean after making an air turn-back 200 nautical miles off the coast of Kelantan, based on a final “electronic handshake” detected by satellite at 8.11am on March 8.

From the data, investigators used the plane’s available speed range to deduce that it could be in one of two corridors: a northern arc from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in central Asia, or a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

In the CBS interview, Morell also said the Boeing 777-200 would have faced great difficulty in maintaining an altitude below 5,000 feet needed to to stay off radars, especially if it flying over land.

“I'm not an aviation expert but the 777 pilots I've talked with say that would be very, very difficult to do. So again, possible but not likely,” he said in response to reports that the plane could have hidden its trail by adopting a technique known as “terrain masking”.

Several  central Asian nations that lie along the northern corridor have bolstered Morell’s view, saying none of their military radars have picked up signals from any unidentified aircraft encroaching on their airspace.

India had said it last Saturday, followed by Pakistan a day later and yesterday, Kazakhstan and al Qaeda militants, making it unlikely that a jumbo jet had flown off course along a northern route via Thailand.

Malaysian officials have also dismissed as speculation reports that the jet may have flown at low altitude to avoid detection.

But news agency Reuters reported last night that the scenario was not wholly implausible.

Citing several unnamed commercial pilots, Reuters reported that the 250-tonne aircraft could have been hiding in plane view of military radars without triggering any alarm.

“The military radar controllers would have seen him moving on a fixed line, figured that it was a commercial aircraft at a high altitude, and not really a danger especially if he was on a recognised flight path,” one pilot told the international news wire.

Another pilot was quoted saying that defence scouts manning a country’s borders were least likely to pay attention to a plane if it were on the red-eye flight and steered clear of any military target point.

Ten days after MH370 fell off civilian radar,  the mystery of its whereabouts and the motives for its disappearance remain no closer to being resolved.

Malaysian authorities have steadfastly resisted calling the incident a hijack, without a clear terror link or ransom note received for the lives of the 227 passengers of its 12 crew onboard.

Putrajaya’s silence in the face of concrete developments however, have fuelled speculation that one of the two MH370 pilots could have deliberately turned off the plane’s transponder ― which relays information about its location, altitude and speed ― as he plotted a suicide mission.