Air Crash
March 12, 2015

(Publication Undecided)

In less than a year Malaysia Airlines has lost two aircraft with a total of 537 people on board. Neither accident has been properly explained. Could it be that there are people out there who do not want proper explanations?

The recent anniversary of first loss – the strange disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 - saw the usual collection of unlikely theories regurgitated – Russian hijackers now hiding the plane in Kazakstan, US agents taking the plane to Diego Garcia and so on. Meanwhile the world continues to ignore a much more realistic explanation - one which appeared in some Malaysian media shortly after the loss but was ignored. It suggested the pilot had deliberately crashed the plane to protest ugly politics in his home country. Developments since have done much to confirm that suggestion, unpalatable as it is.

Malaysia's political problems have been around for some time. The ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has held power continuously for 56 years. Anwar Ibrahim, the popular and competent former deputy prime minister who had left UMNO to set up his own party was its only real rival. To continue their grip on power the UMNO bosses had shown repeatedly they were willing to resort to anything to keep him out of office.

In 1998 Anwar was hit with charges of corruption and sodomy. After six years in jail on the dubious corruption charge - much in solitary confinement - he was then arraigned on the sodomy charge. Here he was acquitted. But on March 7, 2014, the day flight MH370 left to meet its watery fate, a Kuala Lumpur court decided to overturn this acquittal so he could be sent back to jail for a further five years. That decision coincided with preparations for an election which could well have seen Anwar's Peoples Justice Party begin seriously to challenge UMNO.

At this stage enter Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot for that fated MH370 flight. Shah was an ardent Anwar supporter, and possibly a distant relative also. Late on the afternoon of March 7 he had attended the Kuala Lumpur court hearing that had decided Anwar's fate. Just hours later he was at the controls of flight MH370, destination Beijing. To some Malaysian commentators at the time this timeline was significant. But their suggestions that Shah crashed the plane to draw attention to Anwar's unfair fate were soon drowned out by the rush of other theories – hijackers, equipment malfunction, and so on. But now, when it seems clear there were no hijackers and that Shah remained in full control of the plane maybe we need to go back and look at those earlier suggestions. They are not entirely absurd. International opinion has criticised the treatment of Anwar as an abuse of human rights -the 'dark side' of Malaysian politics as the Economist described it. Islamic culture allows impetuous behaviour under provocation. In this situation claims that Shah had lead a normal stable life beforehand are not relevant. After all, pilots do not normally spend pre-departure time in court houses.

Take the area where the plane disappeared – the remote and deep southern Indian ocean. Someone wanting to cause maximum inconvenience for searchers could not have chosen a better location. A deliberate pancake landing there with the plane sinking before coming apart would also explain the lack of debris - yet another problem for the searchers. The elaborate moves by the pilot to evade radar also confirm deliberate intentions. In a BBC interview two former 777 captains have raised this point. One, Simon Hardy, suggested that the plane's careful route, cutting in and out of Thai and Malaysian airspace, was aimed to confuse air traffic controllers, with possible suicide as a motive.

Shah may have left a note explaining its motives, though that would have been confiscated during the search of his house by authorities immediately after the plane's disappearance. It is more likely that his reported in-flight telephone calls were to make sure the authorities realised what he was about, hence the haste to have his house searched.

It would also explain the curiously evasive way the authorities have handled the whole affair, even allowing for Malaysia's laid-back attitudes. If it came out that Shah had acted in protest against Anwar's persecution they would be in political trouble. If it came out the crash was deliberate they would have been in deep financial trouble from victim compensation claims. In this situation they would have wanted to obfuscate. To delay search and rescue efforts they left east of the Malaysian Peninsula as the likely crash site area even though almost from the beginning they knew radar had located the plane flying to the west of the peninsula. Other important data only emerged slowly.

I emphasise that these are only theories. But if they had received earlier attention the search for the missing plane could have been much more concentrated. And Anwar would not have received another prison sentence, this time for five years.

On top of all this we now have the mystery of the Boeing 777 flight MH 11 shot down July 17, 2014. over eastern Ukraine. At first we were told it was shot down by a Russian Buk rocket in the hands of separatist fighters. But that seemed unlikely at the time; those rockets are difficult to operate. Now impartial witnesses have emerged, including an OSCE monitor, Michael Bociurkiw providing photo evidence that the plane was brought down by bullets, not rockets. I too am certain I saw bullet holes in the early photos of the crashed fuselage. And if there were bullets they could only have come from Ukrainian military aircraft.

But would Ukraine have wanted to shoot down a Malaysian passenger craft in cold blood just to embarrass Moscow? Unlikely. So let's consider another possibility.

At the conclusion of the BRICS July 14-16, 2014, Summit in Brazil where Moscow had put forward banking proposals aimed at weakening the dominance of the US dollar, Russian president Vladimir Putin left Rio de Janeiro to take a direct flight to Moscow. Allowing for time differences, that flight would have taken him directly over eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash.

Could those bullets have been intended for his plane? Not impossible, certainly when taken with all the other underhand manoeuvres we have seen in this conflict. Early on we were promised a full report on this accident. To date it has not appeared. Erasing the evidence of those bullet holes may not be easy.

For further details I recommend:

The Mystery of the Malaysian Airlines Crash Over Ukraine


OCSE monitor mentions bullet holes in MH17

*Gregory Clark is an Australian commentator on economic and political affairs, long resident in Japan.