As search crews race to home in on data recorders at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, it is worth a look back two weeks ago, to when I discussed the possibility that Zahare Ahmad Shah, the pilot of missing Flight MH 370, acted in his final moments to prevent his runaway plane from becoming a danger to anyone else. Whatever killed the passengers and crew — poisonous fumes, a terrorist’s chemical weapon, or a simple onboard fire — this heroic hypothesis is a satisfactory and simple explanation for the last course that Shah programmed.
CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes cautioned against assuming a nefarious reason for steering the plane around Indonesia’s airspace.
“I think the plane’s being intentionally flown there, but I think it’s still a mystery as to why. … I think they would probably guess they’re not avoiding anybody’s radar, because there’s a lot of radar in the area,” he said. “I think they’re avoiding getting shot down or colliding with another airplane.”
CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien said the new route includes designated waypoints that pilots and air traffic controllers use.
“This particular route that is laid out happens to coincide with some of these named intersections,” he said. “So what it shows is an experienced pilot somewhere in the mix on this.” (Emphasis mine)
A professional pilot would presumably be aware that their crew and passengers were succumbing to smoke. Having failed to extinguish the fire (or an event that he thought was a fire) with a series of rapid altitude changes, and knowing that he had only moments left himself before succumbing to smoke, a professional career pilot like Shah must have understood that he would die before reaching the ground. So what did he decide to do?
The heroic hypothesis offers a very simple, and therefore likely, explanation for the known facts: Zahare Ahmad Shah minimized the chances that his runaway plane would kill anyone on the ground, on the water, or in the air by programming his autopilot for the middle of nowhere — and then he died flying.