Jeff Wise’s reporting on the disappearance of Malaysia 370 has always been out there, but that didn’t seem to stop established news organizations from using him in their coverage of the mysterious loss of the airplane in 2014. It was Wise whose front page article in New York Magazine kicked off with this compelling question; “How Crazy Am I To Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?”
In his scenario, the plane was commandeered by shady Ukrainian passengers and digitally flown to Kazakhstan. All the theory required was that data provided to the investigation from the satellite company inmarsat, be disregarded.
Wise had to reel back on the idea that the plane was safely hangared in the middle of north central Asia when pieces of the plane turned up, you guessed it, in the south Indian Ocean. The inmarsat experts had been right about the direction in which the airplane flew.
It’s a testament to his intelligence and likeability – not to mention a clever writing style, that despite the big egg left on the face of New York Magazine, Wise continues to get ink with his latest theory. And we can add Popular Mechanics to the list too, since today it published another story penned by Wise, this one with the ironic tease, “How Were They So Wrong?”
Wise is not referring to the publications helping him push his north to Kazakhstan scenario, but to the Australian effort to scan the ocean for the remains of the widebody airliner.
In addition to chuckle-inducing theme that others in the ongoing drama of Malaysia 370 don’t know what they’re doing, I’ve got two issues with Wise’s story.
First, the whole characterization of officials as offering “assurances that success was right around the corner” is just flat out wrong. Circumspection ruled among those I spoke with and with good reason.
It was the Australians, who on April 7, 2014, wrongly announced they were pretty sure they’d found the black boxes. Reporters in Kuala Lumpur and Perth hurried to hear Joint Agency Coordination Center chief Angus Houston say they’d found “a most promising lead” and “probably the best information that we have had.”
It was not the black boxes as we all know now, and Houston, who was supposed to be so deliberate, had to curb his enthusiasm in front of the world.
Lesson learned, the ATSB has been plenty guarded about assurances of success in its hundred million dollar plus sea search.
Wise has determined that the Aussies are wrong, wrong, wrong about the location of the plane and that they could have done better if they’d followed something they knew about for a while and which he reported on Friday in New York Magazine; that Capt. Zaharie purposefully flew the Boeing 777 into the middle of nowhere on a suicide flight.
This is based on a document Wise claims to have obtained from the Malaysia police files and about which the Australians were informed.
If I’m reading the story correctly, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation reviewing the hard drives from Zaharie’s flight simulator, sent to the Malaysians a report that read,
“We found a flight path, that lead (sic) to the Southern Indian Ocean, among the numerous other flight paths charted on the Flight Simulator.”
The Malaysians have denied it. But as all things in this murky tale, what exactly they’re denying is not clear.
Hot on the trail of his pilot suicide theory, Wise is calling for more searching but this time, taking into account the possibility that the plane was purposefully guided into the sea. Calculations based on that premise should be considered, Wise writes, since the plane “isn’t where it was supposed to be, where else could it have gone?”
Numerous articles quoting experts in the field of deep underwater searches suggest there’s no certainty that the equipment being used by the Dutch marine engineering firm Fugro, is suitable for the task, or that those responsible have the proper expertise. A few people who have spoken to me, both on and off the record suggest the Australians did not hire the best qualified company for the job.
Could MH370 have been in the search area and not detected? Absolutely, they say.
“You can lose targets for any number of reasons,” Rob McCallum of Williamson and Associates told me when I asked him about the search.
The wreckage could be “in a shadow or behind an obstruction or the sound waves are not getting to it or the tow fish wanders off course because it is not being navigated correctly or there is enough noise in the system that the imagery is blurry. You can actually mask potential target.”
My problem with the negative results of the underwater search is the “if A then B” logic. If the plane has not been found, it is not there. But everything I’ve been told suggests the plane is too small, the underwater terrain too complex and the search too demanding to draw that conclusion.
So before Wise goes off demanding that another hundred million or more be spent to keep up the search, a re-examination of everything that’s known is required. That has to be wide-scale and sweeping, including a fresh-eyes look at the investigations that have been conducted on the ground, the air and the water.
And regarding making Jeff Wise the voice of authority on MH370, I’d recommend a re-examination of that as well.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.