US writer resurrects MH370 conspiracy, blames Malaysian officials for bungling protocol

Peter Chong holds up his smartphone to show a photo of himself with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah at a hotel in Sepang March 18, 2014. — Reuters pic
Peter Chong holds up his smartphone to show a photo of himself with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah at a hotel in Sepang March 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — Five years after the disappearance of Flight MH370 and all 239 people aboard, US writer and former pilot William Langewiesche returned to an old and unproven theory that posited its Malaysia Airlines pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah as the person who hijacked the Boeing 777 plane in a murder-suicide plot.

In a very long article for US magazine The Atlantic’s July issue that was published online yesterday, Langewiesche — who has been described as among the most authoritative and respected aviation writers — also took aim at Malaysian officials past and present for the continued mystery surrounding the Malaysian Airlines flight.

The Atlantic’s former national correspondent who also writes for Vanity Fair magazine advanced the belief of a cover-up by the Malaysian air force, civil air traffic control and police, all the way up to the Cabinet level.

“The important answers probably don’t lie in the ocean but on land, in Malaysia. That should be the focus moving forward. Unless they are as incompetent as the air force and air traffic control, the Malaysian police know more than they have dared to say.

“The riddle may not be deep. That is the frustration here. The answers may well lie close at hand, but they are more difficult to retrieve than any black box,” Langewiesche wrote in his article titled “What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane”.

A relative of victims from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane cries while awaiting updates at a hotel in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on March 10, 2014. — AFP pic
A relative of victims from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane cries while awaiting updates at a hotel in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on March 10, 2014. — AFP pic

He alleged that the Malaysian authorities’ ineptitude continues to the present day under the Pakatan Harapan administration, even accusing Transport Minister Anthony Loke of now culpability in why the plane has not been found and flubbing protocol during an event related to MH370 last year, without going into the details.

“The Malaysians just wish the whole subject would go away. I attended an event in the administrative city of Putrajaya last fall, where Grace Nathan and Gibson stood in front of the cameras with the transport minister, Anthony Loke.

“The minister formally accepted five new pieces of debris collected over the summer. He was miserable to the point of being angry. He barely spoke, and took no questions from the press,” he said, referring to a victim’s kin and his fellow US citizen Blaine Gibson.

In contrast, Langewiesche painted the authorities from the other countries who participated in the global search in a far kinder and less accusatory light.

“The Australians have done what they could. The Chinese want to move on and are censoring any news that might inflame the passions of the families. The French are off in France, rehashing the satellite data,” he wrote.

US amateur investigator Blaine Gibson speaks to the media after handing over possible debris from missing flight MH370 to Australian officials on September 12, 2016. — AFP pic
US amateur investigator Blaine Gibson speaks to the media after handing over possible debris from missing flight MH370 to Australian officials on September 12, 2016. — AFP pic

His portrayal of Gibson, the lawyer-turned-beachcomber, whose amateur interest in MH370 has helped contribute to a third of pieces of Boeing flotsam and wreckage washed up ashore, is almost glowing.

“Gibson left the commemoration determined to help by addressing a gap he had perceive——the lack of coastal searches for floating debris. This would be his niche. He would become MH370’s private beachcomber.

“The official investigators, primarily Australian and Malaysian, were heavily invested in their underwater search. They would have scoffed at Gibson’s ambition, just as they would have scoffed at the prospect that on beaches hundreds of miles apart, Gibson would find pieces of the airplane,” he claimed.

But possibly the most startling aspect of Langewiesche’s diatribe against the Malaysian handling of the MH370 mystery was his insistence that pilot Zaharie executed a deliberate and methodical hijack of the plane for his own personal reasons.

The American writer who included selected snippets of his interviews with several people connected to the MH370 incident, posited that the Malaysian authorities failed to act on alleged red flags thrown up in their profiling of Zaharie to probe deeper into the pilot’s psychological and emotional state leading up to the fateful flight on March 8, 2014.

“If Malaysia were a country where, in official circles, the truth was welcome, then the police portrait of Zaharie as a healthy and happy man would carry some weight. But Malaysia is not such a country, and the official omission of evidence to the contrary only adds to all the other evidence that Zaharie was a troubled man,” he wrote.

A military personnel looks out of a helicopter during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam's Tho Chu island March 10, 2014. — Reuters pic
A military personnel looks out of a helicopter during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam's Tho Chu island March 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

The writer also revisited the conspiracy borne from police discovery of a Microsoft flight simulator in Zaharie’s home and which he suggested deserved another look, quoting an engineer and a member of one of the independent investigative groups into MH370 that formed after official investigators were suspended.

Langewiesche said Victor Iannello in his extensive analysis of Zaharie’s simulated flight records kept in the latter’s home, found it significant that the Malaysia Airlines pilot had not run a continuous simulation on the South Indian Ocean flight route but played it in stages to “leave a bread-crumb trail to say goodbye” for the future investigators to find.

“Does the absence of all of this from the official report — Zaharie’s travails; the peculiar nature of the flight profile on the simulator — not to mention the technical inadequacies of the report itself, constitute a cover-up? At this point, we cannot say. We know some of what the investigators knew but chose not to reveal. There is likely more that they discovered and that we do not yet know,” he wrote.

Family members of MH370 victims release 240 balloons printed with the names of their loved ones in Publika, March 6, 2016. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Family members of MH370 victims release 240 balloons printed with the names of their loved ones in Publika, March 6, 2016. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Langewiesche wrote of meeting one of Zaharie’s lifelong friends in Kuala Lumpur whom he left unnamed and claimed the missing pilot was responsible for downing the plane and the rest of its occupants on the basis of possible clinical depression over his marriage and other domestic issues and alleged guilt over more alleged extramarital affairs, even as the anonymous person admitted there was nothing to support this theory.

Zaharie’s family have repeatedly denied domestic problems when such theories first emerged.

Langewiesche’s article though likely of interest to the amateur sleuths rakes over familiar ground but does not throw up any new information, which was noted by another writer Clive Irving of US news and opinion website on popular culture, Daily Beast.

Liu Shuangfeng kisses an album with pictures of her son, who was on board missing Flight MH370, at her house in Handan, Hebei province, China March 1, 2019. — Reuters pic
Liu Shuangfeng kisses an album with pictures of her son, who was on board missing Flight MH370, at her house in Handan, Hebei province, China March 1, 2019. — Reuters pic

In his Daily Beast article published early this morning, Irving pointed out the “unfortunate tone of condescension” in Langewiesche’s musings on Zaharie’s mental state leading up the disappearance of the plane, as well as his fellow US peer’s flair for dramatics over true descriptions, especially in the latter’s retelling of the end by describing how the Boeing 777 disintegrated into confetti when it hit the water”.

“That idea is absolutely confounded by the solidity of the pieces of debris that survived. The main and heaviest parts of the jet, the engines and the fuselage, would have been shattered on impact, but never shredded like confetti. Confetti better describes Langewiesche’s detective work,” Irving wrote in his analysis.

“Of course, there have always been aviation industry interests that were all too ready to believe that the pilots did it. That would let everybody else off the hook,” he added as he pointed out the relatively large and solid physical pieces of wreckage that have been collected since and have been attributed to originate from MH370.

The Bluefin 21, the Artemis autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), is hoisted back on board the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield after a successful buoyancy test as part of the continuing search for the missing MH370, April 4, 2014. — Reuters pic
The Bluefin 21, the Artemis autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), is hoisted back on board the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield after a successful buoyancy test as part of the continuing search for the missing MH370, April 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared on March 8, 2014 with all 239 people on board.

Underwater searches for the plane in the Indian Ocean have covered 120,000 square kilometres and cost about A$200 million was subsequently suspended indefinitely in January 2017 until Malaysia accepted a “no-cure, no-fee” offer from US exploration firm Ocean Infinity last year.

The three-month search covered 112,000 sq km north of the original target area, without any new discovery when it was called off in May 2018.

An official 495-page report in July last year stated that MH370 was deliberately taken off course by a person or persons unknown.

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