The Latest on Flight 370 [Updated]

The mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 remains as murky as ever, but recent developments are consistent with what we have been saying for some time. Everyone now acknowledges that the airplane was hijacked, with or without collaboration by one or more crew members. We have all learned something about the various signals that an airplane gives off in flight; as more information comes to light, the time during which Flight 370 apparently remained aloft continues to be extended:

Although U.S. officials previously said they believed the plane could have remained in the air for several extra hours, Najib said Saturday that the flight was still communicating with satellites until 8:11 a.m. — seven and a half hours after takeoff, and more than 90 minutes after it was due in Beijing. There was no further communication with the plane after that time, Najib said. If the plane was still in the air, it would have been nearing its fuel limit.

Seven and a half hours! Our hearts go out to the passengers on board, if they were still alive. Based on satellite data, which apparently is imprecise–also, authorities aren’t telling us everything they now know–attention is focusing on two separate corridors:

Najib, citing newly analyzed satellite data, said the plane could have flown along two paths: one stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border, the other, more southern path stretching from Indonesia to the remote Indian Ocean. …

If the plane traveled along the southern path, according to a document provided by the Malaysian government, it would have spent nearly all of its flight time over the Indian Ocean as it headed to an area west of Australia. But if the plane traveled the northern path, it would present a more perplexing scenario: that it evaded detection for hours while flying through a volatile region where airspace is heavily monitored: Myanmar, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and western China are all in the neighborhood of that path, as is the United States’ Bagram Airfield, which is in Afghanistan.

There are some suggestive names on that list. It is unclear how far Flight 370 could have gone. The Malaysians say that the aircraft would have been close to running out of gas after 7 1/2 hours, plus the hour or so it had flown before it cut off communications. [Correction: That hour is included in the 7 1/2.] The cruising speed of the Boeing 777-200ER is around 1,000 km/hour, and according to Boeing the aircraft’s range, fully loaded with fuel, is 14,035 kilometers. So the aircraft apparently was not fully loaded for the flight to Beijing, which is only 4,444 km. But it sounds as though–to take just one of many possible instances–the airplane could have made it to Tehran, which is 6.291 km from Kuala Lumpur. Or anywhere in Pakistan, which is only around 4,400 km from Kuala Lumpur. So just about anything is possible.

UPDATE: It should be noted that another potential destination is the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, which is mostly Islamic and is the principal home of the Uyghurs. Given recent terrorist attacks by separatist Uyghurs, that should be considered a strong possibility.

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