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Satellite clue crushes wild theories, hope for Flight MH370



By ADAM GELLER and KRISTEN GELINEAU

Over an extraordinary 17 days and nights, until the moment Malaysia's prime minister stepped to a lectern to deliver investigators' sobering new findings, the fate of vanished Flight 370 hung on morbid conjecture and fragile hope.

Many previous tragedies have transfixed us by revealing their power in cruel detail. But the disappearance of the Beijing-bound Boeing 777 without warning or explanation captivated imaginations around the world in no small part because of the near vacuum of firm information or solid leads.

Nothing solid, that is, until late Monday night, when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that an analysis of the plane's last-known signals to a satellite showed that it went down somewhere in the desolate waters of the southern Indian Ocean - and that all on board perished.

It was a turning point of sorts in one of the most perplexing mysteries of modern times. Najib's statement offered some resolution - the plane has surely crashed - but little else. No one has found the plane, or the passengers, or the answer to why all this happened in the first place. And solving those riddles involves a search that looms dauntingly across a vast expanse of unforgiving ocean at the bottom of the earth.

The puzzle of Flight 370 has been complicated by a frustrating lack of hard facts since it vanished on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Who could say what might have happened in the cockpit or the cabin - or who or what was responsible? Who knew where the plane had gone - up or down, north or south - or what had become of its 239 passengers and crew?

Hungry for answers, officials and investigators, relatives and reporters focused their questions fruitlessly on the two Iranian passengers who boarded the plane with stolen passports; then on the oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand; then on the rumors that a Uighur passenger might have harbored anti-Chinese motives; then on the pilot's home flight simulator.

The reluctance of Malaysian officials to reveal what they knew and sometimes to offer conflicting information only seemed to feed the doubts, even after many of the nefarious scenarios suggested early on were dismissed. And with limited evidence and not even a bit of confirmed wreckage, everyone from experts on aviation and terrorism to armchair travelers was left to speculate.

It may have been hard to take rocker Courtney Love seriously when she posted a photo on Facebook showing an oil slick off the coast of Malaysia and suggested that it revealed the location of the missing plane. But when a fake news story showed up online supposedly quoting Sarah Palin as saying she believed the plane had flown directly to heaven, its plausibility hinged not on the former Alaska governor, but on the fact that just about anybody could and seemingly did have an opinion on the flight's fate.

That's probably because most people felt connected to it and, therefore, invested in it. As Australia's opposition leader Bill Shorten put it, "There is something about a plane disappearing which links all the citizens of the globe. These people who disappeared on this flight could be any of us."

While many of the theories presented were well-informed speculation based on deep experience and thoughtful analysis, they all had one flaw or another, and could not dispel the void. With so little to go on, families of those aboard grasped at the clouds of uncertainty, which allowed them to maintain a sense, however shaky, that that the plane might possibly be found intact, their relatives found alive.

"Dearest love, I hope you are able to get some rest where you are, and that they are feeding you," Sarah Bajc wrote last week in a Facebook post to her boyfriend, Philip Wood, a native of Texas who was on board. "Any chance they include a glass of wine with dinner?"

It was one of a heartbreaking string of love notes she sent out into the electronic ether, as she clung to the hope that her partner was still alive. A few days later: "Hi baby, It has been a lazy Sunday here. I cannot imagine what you must be going through." Later still: "Good morning baby, how are you holding up? I'm doing my best to bring you hope and courage to continue the fight."

And fight the families did - for any scrap of information that might reveal their loved ones' fate. Gut-wrenching grief, frustration and, eventually, rage bubbled over among some of the family members, who accused the Malaysian government of withholding information. Before a news briefing in Kuala Lumpur, two Chinese relatives of passengers held up a banner demanding the truth.

"I want to see my son!" one of the women cried, before being carried away by security as she wept and screamed.

And then, at last, came a break - or at least, what seemed like one. On March 20, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stunned the world when he stood up during what had been a routine session of parliament, slipped on his glasses and began to read from a statement:

"New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean," he began. "The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search."

The objects - two blurry, whitish blobs captured in a satellite image - were located in a patch of the Indian Ocean, near absolutely nothing. The closest major body of land was Australia's west coast, 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) away.

The hunt was on in earnest. Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand had already been searching the area and more planes from China and Japan were sent to help, while an Australian navy supply ship, the HMAS Success, scoured the waters, some of the roughest and remotest in the world.

More potential clues began popping up: A civil aircraft taking part in the search on Saturday spotted several small objects floating in the water, including a wooden pallet surrounded by straps. Could it have been from the aircraft? Malaysia Airlines confirmed the flight did, indeed, have wooden pallets on board. But pallets are also commonly used in the shipping industry. A New Zealand military aircraft tried to find the objects for closer inspection, but found only clumps of seaweed.

The sense that searchers were getting close grew when more satellite data emerged; China announced it had captured a large object within the search zone on one of its satellites, and France said it had satellite data that may have identified debris from the missing plane.

More objects of potential interest were spotted by the search planes crisscrossing the skies: a grey or green circular object and an orange rectangular object. A white, square object glimpsed through a break in the clouds.

The U.S. sent a Towed Pinger Locator to the region in case a debris field was found, in the hopes it could locate the plane's so-called black box. An Australian navy support vessel, the Ocean Shield, equipped with acoustic detection equipment, was also moving into the search zone.

But except for analysts' fresh conclusion based on satellite data that the flight had gone down, there are still no hard answers. And finding the jet remains far from a certainty.

For Bajc, the woman who has all along refused to give up hope that her boyfriend is still alive, Malaysia's fatalist announcement offered little resolution.

"I need closure to be certain but cannot keep on with public efforts against all odds," she wrote in an email. "I STILL feel his presence, so perhaps it was his soul all along."

___

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra in Beijing contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
wlab123 March 25 2014 at 1:12 PM

An event like this, brings out the morons from under the porch or their bunkers, to share with us their views. Some sick puppys out there. My heart goes out to the victims and family members.

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2 replies
Chris wlab123 March 25 2014 at 1:17 PM

Yeah, it really brings out the bitter haters.

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teeveequeen wlab123 March 25 2014 at 1:18 PM

and just think ... those morons are getting paid big $$$ for their SPECULATIVE opinions & theories by these idiotic news channels ... just for RATINGS !!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
ddochoa March 25 2014 at 1:47 PM

A Chinese agency started that mind-set of distrust among vulnerable crash victims relatives, of the Malaysian investigation by having a tantrum themselves in the open media early in the investigation, accusing the Malaysian investigators of dragging their feet or seemingly witholding investigation or even incompetence. I sense the Chinese government wants to be in charge in whatever is going on in China lake instead of the NTSB or the FBI.

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vrf19977 March 25 2014 at 1:51 PM

Unless and until someone explains this "new analysis of satellite data", and why it shows that the plane crashed... I'm still calling foul on this story. That's like telling someone who's child has been kidnapped "I analyzed some cell phone records and they prove that your child is dead" and not revealing ANYTHING else. No one would do that! WHAT is the proof, Malaysia? Explain this new "analysis" of data, and show how it reveals that the plane crashed. Answer: you can't!

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rpalmer78 March 25 2014 at 1:52 PM

One theory now leaps to the front: 'rapid asphyxiation'. It's rare, but it happened to golfer Payne Stewart and the crew of a Lear Jet about 15 years ago. The auto pilot worked fine until fuel exhaustion. Everyone on board was already dead when the military fighter pulled along side and gave a report before it crashed. A fire onboard or rapid decompression may have been the cause. The emergency oxygen system is only designed to work long enough for the aircraft to reach a lower altitude. If the flight crew expired first, the auto pilot would continue to operate until the aircraft ran out of fuel. But we will probably never know what really happened.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
str00ntz rpalmer78 March 25 2014 at 1:56 PM

Except that course and altitude changes were made after the loss of contact. If it were running on auto pilot, it would have approached it's destination in Beijing, not made any course changes NOT programmed into it.

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PSYCHiATRY is a SCAM rpalmer78 March 25 2014 at 2:08 PM

does not seem that long ago , October of 1999 . thought it was verified to be decompression , instant death at that altitude ?

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fairfaxeagle March 25 2014 at 1:53 PM

beyond that human tragedy, the scariest part of this enormeous flying object was that is was not percepted or identifyed by any of our nuclear attack prevention system , at a radius of the 7 hours of flying ....it could of have reached China,Indonesia,Pakistan,India,Australia and some other countries of the Est coastal Africa region...yet No radar No satellite and No countries were put on alert that this flying machine could have landed anywhere on a designated traget !

Flag Reply +8 rate up
2 replies
monkimckee65 fairfaxeagle March 25 2014 at 2:03 PM

Salute!! I totally agree!

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Bill fairfaxeagle March 25 2014 at 2:14 PM

I feel safe in saying that detecting a missle is a whole world different from tracking an airplane.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
skelt6 March 25 2014 at 1:56 PM

tragic...oh so tragic

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totalstudentsvcs March 25 2014 at 1:59 PM

Did the FBI ever release the information on the reconstucted deleted file on the pilots home simulator ???

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2 replies
thothsellshomes totalstudentsvcs March 25 2014 at 2:17 PM

Good question. And why was a Malaysian commercial pilot practicing landing at a high security U.S. air base, Diego Garcia? Where did he get the data? Is that something anyone can purchase ... like Grand Theft Auto 5?

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1 reply
totalstudentsvcs thothsellshomes March 25 2014 at 2:27 PM

I think Diego Garcia is leased to the British by the US government ...... All I can say is they are telling the world anything ..... they just spin a new version of the same old data and pictures day after day after day.

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paulatkinson22 totalstudentsvcs March 25 2014 at 2:44 PM

Diego Garcia from your other post? So what. Have you bothered to Google it? It is a pretty big atoll with a big land strip run by... OUR U.S. MILITARY. Not like a 777 could show up and nobody know it.

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KAREN March 25 2014 at 2:08 PM

My own personal thoughts and feelings are of no consequence in this matter. However, in my heart of hearts, I believe we have seen the last of MH370 with it's passengers and crew. But my mind won't be satisfied until we do. God bless them all and God bless their families, friends and loved ones.

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angelasimonelli March 25 2014 at 2:16 PM

Human beings are made to be resilient. That is why there is no such thing as "total" despair, we always have hope. Those of us without family or friends on board flight MH370 have really known all along that there would be no good ending to this horrible story. God Bless each and every soul on board.

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LEA March 25 2014 at 6:07 PM

Slipped on his glasses? WHAT A COVER UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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