Goodnight Malaysia: The MH370 Mystery


The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has given rise to many bizarre theories such as government conspiracies, alien abductions, black holes, and sudden rips in the space-time fabric. This analysis by Paul Terpstra has nine sections. Only the second one is fiction.
  1. Occam's Scenario: The simplest explanation
  2. Another Scenario: A flight of fancy
  3. The Politics: "Beware the fury of the patient man." (John Dryden, 1631-1700)
  4. The Antipodes: Follow the search antipodes from Wisconsin to Cuba through the great Dixie garbage patch.
  5. Pings and Pongs: How the world was fooled by 11 pings -- 7 from the sky and 4 from the sea
  6. The Anagrams: Every Search Plan has a hidden Plane Crash.
  7. The Solution: Connecting the dots, blips and pings
  8. The Location: Four hotspots
  9. Goodnight Malaysia: A Tribute in Anagrams

Occam's Scenario

Truth is usually simpler than fiction, and the simplest explanation for this mystery is a sudden rip in the mind of one disturbed person. That person, either the pilot or copilot, murdered 238 people and hid the evidence.

It shouldn't be called a suicide. The death of the perpetrator is like that of the guy who shot up a classroom full of little kids in Connecticut in 2012 -- an accepted (and expected) side effect of the choice to commit a gruesome crime. Disturbed pilots have killed passengers before (e.g. SilkAir in 1997, EgyptAir in 1999), but this is the first time it has happened in an aircraft with a steel-reinforced cockpit door. Thanks to 9-11, this clever psychopath eliminated all evidence by flying long enough to overwrite the black-boxes and far enough to hide the crime where it will most likely never be found.

Occam's Location: Once the killer flew past the northern tip of Sumatra, the simplest and easiest way to dispose of the crime scene (the plane, the victims and himself) would be to fly due south along the ninety-fifth meridian, which lies just beyond Sumatra's northwest tip. A bearing of 180 degrees at this longitude would take the plane as far from land as it is possible to be. It passes exactly halfway between Australia's westernmost point (113E) and the nearest land to the west (77E). A southward bearing along 95E is a guarantee that the plane will sink in a place more than a thousand miles from land in every direction. It did not have enough fuel to reach Antarctica, but it could have gone as far south of the equator as Beijing is north of it. Therefore, the best place to look for MH370 is 40S, 95E.

Another Scenario

Occam is sometimes mistaken, of course. The number of alternative MH370 scenarios is limited only by the number of people who've been wondering what happened to the jet. Here's one:

As the plane cruised over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, its transponder was remotely switched from normal operation to transporter mode, allowing a team of Langoliers from Diego Garcia to beam aboard and turn the jet west toward a space-time wormhole hovering near the Nicobar Islands as part of a secret U.S. military research program. No one resisted. (Langoliers are unarmed but have intimidating teeth.) Before long, all humans were put to sleep by high-altitude depressurization as they flew over the Malay Peninsula between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

Upon awakening, they found the intruders gone, the sun shining, and the aircraft flying low over a strange land. When Captain Shah disengaged the autopilot, he was shocked to see the coordinates bestowed by the wormhole: X=29E, Y=41N, Z=+561, T=-561. Unable to locate any runways or usable radio frequencies in the vicinity of Constantinople, he glided the Boeing 777 to a Bosporus landing, having practiced the Sullenberger Maneuver often on his home flight simulator in case this situation ever came up.

All passengers and crew survived the water landing and were rescued by oarsmen from an Ottoman galley before the aircraft sank. Sultan Mehmed II promptly recruited the people from the flying ship into his Janissary army and used their technical expertise to break a stalemate in his ongoing siege of the Byzantine capital. The new people gave the sultan an innovative engineering strategy to bypass the huge chain across the Golden Horn by transporting Ottoman ships overland from the Bosporus on greased logs.

Thus, the great Eastern Roman Empire, which had lasted almost a thousand years since the fall of Rome, was finally toppled in 1453 by twenty guys from Freescale Semiconductor.

The Politics

In this mystery, every scenario is unlikely. But pilot psychopathology triggered by political corruption is less unlikely than a secret wormhole project. Captain Shah was a supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was re-convicted on sodomy charges just seven hours before the fateful flight took off. The sham court hearing on March 7 may have been the last straw. The straw that ripped the captain's mind. The straw that hatched a plot so diabolical that the enemy was enlisted as an unwitting accomplice. Fifty years of upside-down intellectual stratification caused by nepotism (promoting the dumb but loyal over the smart but neutral) qualified the Malaysian government to help cover the perfect crime. It worked. Fourteen nations spent seven days looking for the missing plane in the Pacific Ocean, thus giving the Indian Ocean a full week to delete any floating evidence.

President Obama's visit to Malaysia in April gave him an opportunity to call attention to inequality among democracies. But he let it slide. Many were disappointed when he praised Malaysia's "fully forthcoming" search efforts and declined to meet the opposition leader.
The Message: Any nation that holds elections is free and therefore praiseworthy.
The Reality: Malaysia's one-party pseudo-democracy is less free and praiseworthy than China's one-party non-democracy.
The Reason: China has no incentive to promote unqualified people, because China has no elections.
The Confession: I voted for Obama. (and eeep! I did it *twice*!)

The Antipodes

The search for MH370 has given North Americans a new answer to the old question "What's on the other side of the world from here?" The old answer (after rejecting "China" as a childhood myth) was "Nothing." As seen on an antipodal world map, the world's largest unbroken expanse of ocean holds all of antipodal North America, including Central America and the West Indies, with plenty of room to spare. The only exceptions are the arctic lands of the far north and five tiny spots corresponding to desolate islands in the Southern Ocean -- two in Saskatchewan, two in Colorado, and one straddling the Alberta-Montana border south of Medicine Hat. North Americans everywhere else have a new name for the place they'd end up if they dug through the center of the earth: "The Search Area."

Note: This does not apply to Hawaiians; for them, the answer is still "Botswana" as it has been since 1966, and before that it was "Bechuanaland".

To appreciate the size of the region enclosed by imaginary yellow crime-scene tape, the search should be tracked antipodally. Place names in the remainder of this section refer to the antipodal search area, because so few names exist in the real search area. Two weeks after the plane vanished, satellite images revealed objects floating near three towns in Wisconsin (Oshkosh, Rhinelander and Wausau) and one in Michigan (Charlotte). This was the most challenging phase of the air search, because the closest airport to Wisconsin is in Bermuda (antipodal Perth). Search planes spent more time flying from Bermuda to and from Wisconsin than actually searching Wisconsin.

During the last week of March, Inmarsat recalculated their satellite ping rings based on revised airspeed assumptions, and the search suddenly jumped a thousand miles to Alabama, Georgia and Florida, all of which are closer to Bermuda than Wisconsin is. The escape from the roaring forties was supported by new satellite images (from France, Japan and Thailand) that located no fewer than 432 objects floating in the new search area. Alas, they all turned out to be part of the Great Dixie Garbage Patch.

On April 5, the Chinese ship Haixun detected an underwater ping in the Bahamas between Bimini and Andros Islands. The next day, the Australian ship Ocean Shield heard more pings (presumed to be from black-box locator beacons) near Little Ragged Island, also in the Bahamas but more than 300 miles from Andros. The search coordinator chose the latter location to explore underwater. As of May 28, the small patch of ocean between Little Ragged Island and the north coast of Cuba is the only part of antipodal North America explored by the Bluefin. The underwater search has yet to leave the tropics.

Visit your antipode: If you live in North America, you can locate your antipode by reversing the sign of your latitude from N to S and subtracting your longitude from 180 and reversing the sign of the remainder from W to E. Type the coordinates into Google Earth, and you'll be flown directly to your antipode. It will be blue.

Trivia Bonus: Chile and China are alphabetical neighbors but geographical opposites. If you dig through the center of the earth from Chile, you'll end up in China.

Pings and Pongs

Two kinds of pings were used to shrink the search area down to the tiny spot near antipodal Cuba where nothing was found. The first kind were radio signals (digital handshakes) received by a satellite while the airplane was still in flight. The second kind were underwater acoustic signals presumed to be from the black boxes on the seafloor. Both kinds have problems.

Type 1 Ping Problem: Geostationary satellites are not really stationary. Minor orbital wobbles usually don't matter much, but they matter a lot when a Doppler analysis is performed on signals received from a moving object, especially when that object's primary component of motion is lateral to the satellite rather than toward it or away from it.

Recommendation: Inmarsat must release all their data and calculations to the public so that other signal analysts can reproduce the giant leaps from [antipodal] Wisconsin to Florida to Cuba. Those seven pings are the world's only hope of finding the plane.

Type 2 Ping Problem: The frequency of a black-box beacon should be 37.5 kHz, but signals picked up by the Haixun and Ocean Shield had frequencies ranging from 27 to 33.5 kHz. Such lower-frequency pulses should really be called "pongs" to distinguish them from pings. Maybe they were biotelemetry signals from microchipped animals (sharks, whales, sea turtles), or they could have come from dolphins, which can click at those frequencies without human intervention. For all we know, the dolphins may have been discussing a huge airplane they saw sinking at coordinates known only to them. The presumption that these signals came from black-box beacons is suspicious for another reason as well: Two ships more than 300 miles apart each heard acoustic signals the first time they put detectors in the water.

Recommendation: Though the beacon batteries have died, both ships should put their ears back in the water for the sake of science. Tell us where the pongs came from.

Trivia Bonus: Ping-pong is an English word. The Chinese word for ping-pong is "table tennis."

The Anagrams

Through the magic of anagrams, proudly exposes the secrets hidden in the names of people, places and procedures related to the search for MH370. The anagram list below reveals, for example, that every rational scenario contains irrational oceans, and every search plan contains a plane crash. The British corporation Inmarsat is the main star of the show because their satellite pings produced a lasting epistle of the flight. Yet lurking in their equations is a question or two. How did they find a reputed rise in the true airspeed? Can sine sampling lead to the missing plane? A seabed scan found only its sad absence, and the fruitless air search merely revealed trash failure crises on the high seas: Poseidon has become poisoned. The futile search has exposed tech failures on a global scale.

Exclusions: The anagram list excludes passenger names in respect for the families who lost their loved ones, now lone doves. Luigi Maraldi and Christian Kozel are exempt from this exclusion even though their names fit the manifest, because they're alive and well, unlike two Iranians who used their stolen passports to board the flight. Also excluded are anagrams with vulgarities or profanities. The anagram for hits is only this and nothing more. And by default, the list excludes words, names and phrases without English anagrams. Examples are arrival, eccentric, future, Faizah Khan, ghost flight, horizon, Java, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Najib Razak, Oshkosh, secrecy, splash, Wausau and Zhu Kezhen. Two other opaque names -- Haixun and Xinhua -- escaped the oblivion of exclusion by being anagrams of each other.

Trivia Bonus: The Truth is also opaque to anagramming. Be very afraid . . .

Inclusions: The list includes terms from some of the wildest and craziest scenarios ever devised by imaginative minds who never met Occam's razor. It also includes a few humorous results that unexpectedly popped up. These conspiratorial, supernatural and mirthful anagrams are included despite the risk of offending some, because laughter is a healing balm for every human soul perplexed by this great mystery of the modern era.

Bias: Some terms have hundreds of anagrams, but only one result is chosen for each, though high-value runners-up are often listed on their own merit to link back to the original term. Candidates are chosen on 3 criteria: relevance to the term being anagrammed, relevance to the search for MH370, or ability to generate an audible chortle reflexively. Despite a lofty ambition to remain otherwise neutral, the list admittedly reflects a bias against any perceived resistance to a fully transparent quest for truth. No insults or accusations are intended by any lines in the anagrammed tribute. The anagrams have always been there. All I did was open the box. - Dinny

Appreciation: Thanks to the Wordsmith Anagram Generator for supporting this project.

The Solution

We already know how to find MH370. All we have to do is connect the dots, blips and pings. The dots are already well known. They are the civilian radar points mapped while the transponder was still on. The pings were made public in May. They are the seven hourly satellite signals collected by Inmarsat. The blips, however, are a problem. Aircraft positions detected by the military radars of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia remain national secrets. They contain crucial information about aircraft position, altitude and airspeed between the Gulf of Thailand and the northern tip of Sumatra. Those blips are needed to calibrate the Inmarsat handshakes so that a track can be plotted to intersect the seventh ping ring. Without the missing blips, we don't even know for sure that the southern path is the correct one. Inmarsat is not allowed to reveal anything that came from the blips Malaysia showed them confidentially.

Each of us belongs to one of 200 or so clubs that we call nations, and each nation has walls to keep invaders out and secrets in. There is no world power strong enough to force a nation to surrender its military secrets merely for the sake of a few hundred people still waiting for their loved ones to come home. Though we can't see it, we know where the solution to the mystery is. It is in the hands of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

The situation can be illustrated with anagrams: The multinational search is a master hallucination, because national security has become a nationality curse in our club-riddled world. Public attempts to reproduce the Inmarsat analysis have been stymied by Malaysian strains. There is also Thai light due on the high altitude allegedly attained during the peninsular crossing. After finding nothing in earlier search areas, we could add a branch area using Banda Aceh radar, where MH370 disappeared from the eyes of the world forever. The secret blips are the best splicer for the two track fragments, one fixed and the other floating. They would tie halves up to reveal the elusive path in its entirety. But it's unlikely to happen. The missing points could be mini-signposts indicating a crash event along the seventh arc, but three countries decided to turn their signposts into stop signs.

That's just the way the world works. There are no conspiracies. There are no coverups. There are no aliens. However, anyone who believes otherwise can find plenty of support from the list below. That's just the way anagrams work. :-)

The Location

Being hobbled by secrecy and incompetence doesn't mean we should give up. The Bluefin Hotspot at 22S, 104E was an embarrassing failure of technology, but there are other hotspots to search that don't depend on the six nations that have bungled the search so far. (In addition to the three aforementioned radar-data hiders, they are Australia, chooser of the empty Bluefin hotspot, the United Kingdom, builder of the irreproducible satellite track, and the United States, interpreter of the acoustic signals picked up by the towed pinger locator). Here are four of those locations:

Occam's Hotspot: 40S, 95E (Antipodal Site: 40N, 85W near Muncie, Indiana)

This location is discussed in Section 1, Occam's Scenario.

Dinny's Hotspot: 37S, 93E (Antipodal Site: 37N, 87W near Clifty, Kentucky)

Though I remain a fan of William of Occam, my hotspot differs from his in two ways: 1) Two degrees of longitude were subtracted to correct for a likely westward drift caused by prevailing easterly winds, which extend farther south during the summer (when the ghost flight occurred). 2) three degrees of latitude were subtracted to account for a strong possibility that the aircraft ran out of fuel about 200 miles earlier than it would have if it had maintained a constant cruising speed and elevation between the South China Sea and the northern tip of Sumatra. Though there is still no public evidence for aerial acrobatics during the westbound leg, the killer would have almost certainly dispatched his victims early in the journey to keep them from trying to break into the cockpit for six hours.

Only three possible states exist for the victims during the southbound leg: dead, incapacitated, or very angry. Others have suggested a hypothetical fourth state of calm oblivion to their dire circumstances, believing they were still on their way to Beijing. But this hypothesis assumes that nobody noticed a) the stars were in the wrong place, b) the most populous nation on earth was totally dark, or c) any unusual behavior in the 11 innocent crew members -- until they saw dawn breaking in the "west." Thus, I reject it. My assumption of murder by decompression before Sumatra is not based on incomplete data from Malaysia and Inmarsat, but on a certainty that the killer would want to avoid having angry people pounding on his door for six hours. He would also want to avoid being alone with his own soul once he rounded Sumatra and set the autopilot for the South Pole. It was a ghost plane before it crossed the equator.

Duncan's Hotspot: 36S, 89E (Antipodal Site: 36N, 91W near Hoxie, Arkansas)

This name refers to Duncan Steel the Ping-Ring Plotting Kiwi, not Alec Duncan the Oomph-Detecting Ozzie. Duncan and several other sharp dudes have plotted a cluster of points based on their analysis of Inmarsat data. One reason to trust them is that they did it without Malaysia. Another is their openness, which includes a more precise location (36.02S, 88.57E) than anyone else has produced. And -- as a serendipitous bonus -- the exact (unrounded) antipodal point of Duncan's hotspot (36.02N, 91.43W) happens to fall on Duncan Road in Sharp County, Arkansas. :-)

Inmarsat's Hotspot: 32S, 98E (Antipodal Site: 32N, 82W near Claxton, Georgia)

This is the official search area. It is also the vaguest location. It is described only as "1800 kilometers west of Perth." It seems the official search team is being unnecessarily cautious about sharing information with us mere mortals of the general public. Maybe they think we're going to cruise over there in our submersibles and loot mangosteens.

And the winner is . . .

Duncan's Hotspot. Antipodal Arkansas beats antipodal Georgia, because openness beats secrecy.

If the plane turns up in antipodal Kentucky some day, then I'll stand up and gloat. Until then, I'll continue to investigate MH370 secrets hiding in the dictionary. 95% of an English dictionary consists of words defined by the other 5%, known as the minimum grounding set. They are linked to MGS words through long chains of definitions, but sometimes the links can be exposed without following the chains simply by taking words apart and reassembling them in a different order, a process known as anagramming.

The MH370 anagram list is intended as a tribute to all victims of the search fiasco, and this includes every person who wonders how a huge, double-aisle airplane can just disappear. Lurking within its alphabetical structure are hundreds of couplets, triplets and quatrains that highlight specific search terms. The title of this eulogy is derived from the final line of a triplet in the S Section, which refers to the overturning of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy acquittal just seven hours before MH370 vanished completely from a baffled world:

Goodnight Malaysia: A Tribute in Anagrams

Warning: This eulogy is rated L, which means it contains some Levity.

Updated 27 June 2014 by Paul Terpstra, owner of Dinny.Net
Questions, comments, and anagrams may be sent by e-mail.