Author’s note: I wrote this as an outline for a book. If I can find a publisher that is interested, I intend to flesh it out, add dialog and sub stories and additional characters. The fleshed out story might also make a good movie. This is a work of fiction based upon a real happening. The names used herein are fictitious and do not represent any real living person. The reader can decide whether the theory contained herein is better than those heard in the news media since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370[a]), also marketed as China Southern Airlines Flight 748 (CZ748) through a codeshare, was a scheduled international passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport, a distance of 4,399 kilometres (2,733 mi). On 8 March 2014, the aircraft flying the route, a Boeing 777-200ER, went missing less than an hour after takeoff. Operated by Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the aircraft carried 12 crew members (all Malaysian nationals) and 227 passengers from 14 nations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370#Crew)
Two weeks before the flight four men met in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur. One of them was 55-year-old Zahar Bin Hmad Shah, a Malaysian Airways Captain who often flew the route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. The second man was Abhisit Sanwong, a Thai “Red Shirt” freedom fighter. The third man was Chen ying-chun a senior vice president of Lifecell Co., Ltd., a Taiwan based maker of lithium batteries. The fourth man was Walter Handay of HSBC, Hong Kong. They were gathered to make final arrangements for a scheme to bring money, documents, arms and electronics to Thai rebels in northern Thailand.
Sanwong had a thumb drive with him that he gave to Captain Shah. On this thumb drive was a GPS program beginning at a way point near the Straights of Malacca and leading up the Thai coast with an inland turn to an old CIA air strip in northern Thailand. There was also GPS coordinates for the air strip and a series of waypoints for step down making a crude GPS approach to the abandoned air strip. Sanwong also brought news that the airstrip had been cleared, patched and lengthened for a landing and immediate covering of an airplane that would be used to deliver the goods. Approach and rudimentary runway lighting was installed that could be activated by radio microphone clicks. A holding area was prepared for the passengers and crew who would be held until the cargo could be offloaded and trucked away to rebel held areas. Since the receiving end was now ready, the four set their minds to getting the cargo and airplane together at the same time.
Chen said his part was completed and waiting at Kuala Lumpur for labeling and loading on to the airplane to be used. The pallets concerned were outwardly all lithium batteries. But the interior of each contained arms, ammunition, electronics and the currency delivered to his warehouse by HSBC personnel on orders of Handay. All that remained was to pick the trip, find out which airplane would be used, move the goods to the airport and load them.
Captain Shah confirmed that his schedule showed him as pilot in command (PIC) of MH 370 for the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing trip on March 8th. Using aeronautical charts and the destination data on the thumb drive he could do his flight planning and practice a few approaches to the clandestine airstrip.
Sanwong said he would have a couple people working for him among the passengers and the cabin crew and would have a firearm planted in the cabin for their use if necessary. There would also be a 777 qualified pilot, among the passengers, traveling on a Ukrainian passport, who would help the captain if his assigned copilot became a problem.
Handay said his customer, who was footing the bill for all of this, was vitally interested in the success of the Thai “Red Shirt” movement and has provided all of the players with new identities and high roller bank accounts at HSBC.
The meeting broke up and Handay departed for Hong Kong by way of Sidney. Chen returned to his office in Taipei. Sanwong stayed in the hotel for another day and then traveled to northern Thailand via air and road. Shah went home and plugged the flash drive into his flight simulator.
As an experiment, he loaded the trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and advanced the track until he found a place where he could shift from the normal route and fly the data in the flash drive. He tweaked the change over point until it could be done at the edge of radar coverage. Then he flew the entire route mapped out by the flash drive culminating in the approach to the old CIA airstrip. Everything appeared to work well. Someone had done a lot of work to prepare this. He shut down the simulator and took the flash drive and put it in his pocket. He would carry that flash drive with him until he could plug it into the GPS on the airplane.
On the night of March 8th one of the 15 Malaysia Airlines 777-200ERs was parked on Gate 4 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, It was a Boeing 777-200H6ER with tail number 9M-MRO and serial number 28420. Activity swarmed around it. Cargo, meals and cabin supplies were loaded and cabin cleaning crews stowed cabin supplies as they cleaned and made the cabin ready. One member of the cabin crew stowed a Walther PPK fully loaded and a fully loaded spare magazine in the number 3 lavatory behind the removable towel disposal. Seven pallets of lithium batteries and two pallets of mangos were loaded. The fuel tanks were filled and the weight and balance calculated and found to be within limits. Passengers and crew went through security and boarded the airplane.
Push back, engine start, clearance, taxi, takeoff and departure all went routinely. The airplane reached its assigned altitude of 35,000 feet. The seat belt light was turned off. A passenger with a Ukrainian passport got up and went into the number 3 lavatory locked the door, removed the paper towel disposal and retrieved the PPK and spare magazine. He checked the pistol, made sure it was loaded and the safety was on. He then placed it in an inside the pants holster he was wearing in the small of his back.
He put the spare magazine in his pants pocket. Used the lavratory, washed his hands, unlocked the door and returned to his seat. The cabin crew handed out blankets and pillows and most passengers opted for sleep.
With the autopilot tracking the GPS, the captain got up told the first officer that he would get some coffee. He opened to cockpit door and went out leaving it slightly ajar. Stopped in the lavatory for a few minutes and then went aft to the first galley and asked the flight attendant there for three cups of coffee. While the flight attendant was getting the coffee, the captain took a small flashlight out of his pocket and used it to check the door seals. In the process he briefly pointed the flashlight down the aisles on each side of the airplane. Whereupon the passenger with the Ukrainian passport and the PPK joined him in time to help him with the coffee. The two men returned to the flight deck. The Captain took his seat and the other man sat in the jump seat behind the two pilots. The captain introduced him to the first officer as a 777 pilot who would ride the jump seat for a while.
Shortly after this, came the hand over from Malaysian control to Vietnamese control in Ho Chi Minh City. As soon as the first officer acknowledged the direction and frequency to contact Ho Chi Minh City, the man in the jump seat told the first office not to say anything else on the radio. He then spoke to the Captain and said navigate as you were instructed. The Captain reached in his pocket and produced the thumb drive. Put the data into the GPS and set up to track the new information just as he had done in the simulator. As the autopilot turned the airplane to its new heading, the captain reduced power and began a slow descent. The man in the jump seat then told the first officer to shut off the transponder and the communication radios but leave the GPS and navigation radios on.
The new flight plan called for a descent to 5,000 feet and a series of way points beginning just north of the Strait of Malacca continuing out in the Andaman Sea with a climb to 10,000 feet during a slow right turn over a small part of Burma and then over northern Thailand. The jump seat occupant told the first officer to turn on Com 1 and set 122.8 in the frequency. At the way point beginning the approach he told the first officer to key his mike six times. Instantly the dark ground was lit up in one spot ahead. Lead in lights and runway lights were visible. The captain flew the approach and the first officer handled the flaps and gear and a pretty normal landing was made using virtually all of the available runway.
Any awake passengers, who might have tried to contact someone using their cell phones, quickly found out that there was no cell service where the airplane was parked.
A representative from the Red Shirt movement boarded the air plane and explained to the passengers that they might have to wait a few days for transportation and cell phone coverage. However the Red shirts would make it worth their while. Each passenger would get his fare back plus $100,000 in US Dollars or in Chinese Yuan plus a small amount of local currency. The Red shirts asked only for some cooperation.
After the cargo was unloaded and trucked away, the checked baggage was unloaded, the passengers were allowed to get off the airplane and get their baggage. The red shirts then took them to some accommodations prepared for this purpose and asked them to be patient. Food and drink was provided and every one settled down to wait. When sufficient time had elapsed for the Red shirts to disperse their supplies and the search for the airplane to get old, the passengers and crew would be trucked or bussed to various places where they could get transportation back to Kuala Lumpur, onwards to Beijing or to any other destination. The man with the Ukranian Passport, Captain Shah and one of the cabin crew left on the second day to another destination where they began life under new identities.
The airplane remains, camouflaged and with plant life already growing on it, on an abandoned CIA airstrip in northern Thailand where it may eventually be found or not found as the case may be. However, even if found, it probably cannot be flown out without extensive work on both airplane and airstrip. And none of the people to eventually be released really know where they have been. The few people who do know will not be talking so it may be a long time indeed before the airplane is found.
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Copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey L. Scribner
Jeff Scribner is president of ASI Enterprises, Inc., an investment bank serving small- and medium-sized businesses. He is also a commercial pilot and a retired Army officer who spent some time in Southeast Asia. He can be reached at [email protected]