Recent evidence recovered from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has led to renewed speculation that the plane landed on an island in the Indian Ocean — a chance dubbed “slim to none” by another pilot.
“If the plane did land on an island, why can’t we find it?” airline pilot and author of Salon’s long-running “Ask the Pilot” column Patrick Smith asked Business Insider in a Monday email.
“There aren’t that many possible landing points, and none of them are so remote that a 777 could simply sneak in and remain there unnoticed. I’d consider this an exceptionally unlikely possibility.”
Deleted data recovered from Captain Zaharie Shah’s home flight simulator last week indicted the 53-year-old senior pilot was simulating a flight path far into the Indian Ocean and landing on a short island runway. As a result of that and other evidence, Shah was named the “chief suspect” of a possible hijacking, though a Malaysian police report did not rule out mechanical failure or other possibilities.
Smith said that though it’s out of the ordinary for a pilot to use a home simulator (numerous reports described Shah’s as “elaborate” or advanced), it doesn’t immediately warrant suspicion.
“If I were going to practice on a home simulator? Chances are I’d opt for some unusual and challenging maneuvers that are impossible to practice in a real aircraft or training sim — such as landing on a small island, perhaps,” Smith said.
A second report last week from Australian authorities speculated all 239 people aboard the plane, which disappeared shortly after takeoff en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, may have suffocated and died as the autopilot guided the plane over the ocean before crashing.
Satellite data evidence of the plane’s activity after it dropped off radar show MH 370 making a sharp left turn outside of Malaysian airspace and following a long, deep arc into the southern Indian Ocean, where investigators believe it crashed after running out of fuel. Months of searching the vast area have yet to uncover any wreckage.
The next phase of the search, which the Independent described as “the most extensive in aviation history,” will move hundreds of miles south from the first search area after suspected black box pings failed to reveal any hard evidence. Sweeps of the ocean could go on for months or years before yielding any results.