Sean Flynn is an American actor best known for playing Chase Matthews in the Nickelodeon comedy-drama Zoey 101.
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Hi, I'm Sean Flynn, correspondent for GQ. I write mostly about crime and disaster, man-made and not. http://www.gq.com/contributors/sean-flynn
My latest is on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared one year ago yesterday. I spent two months and and a lot of money on airfare researching it.
For how long do you think the governments involved will continue the search operation? Is there a point at which they will just give up, or is that politically impossible at this point?
That is an excellent question. The search area, despite being pretty impressively narrowed down, is still enormous. It's akin to scanning West Virginia if the Appalachians were buried under three miles of water. So it's going to be extremely difficult to find under the best of circumstances. How long can the expense be justified? The only answer I got from Martin Dolan, the head of the ATSB, is that if the plane isn't found by the time the primary search area is covered in May, the respective governments will have "a very expensive problem."
I've got a good question. Where is the plane?
Almost certainly at the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean. There's extremely limited data to work with -- seven satellite pings -- but enough very smart people, both government and civilian, have analyzed them and come to roughly the same conclusion, give or take a few miles.
So what your personal theory on the incident?
I haven't locked on to one, because none of them makes complete sense. My best guess--with the caveat that this is mostly through elimination until we get to the least unlikely--is a hijacking that went wrong.
if it is indeed at the bottom of the ocean, how come that until now not a single piece of debris has surfaced?
Excellent point, and one of the most confounding. The two best explanations I've been given -- and neither is completely satisfying, even to the people offering them -- is that the ocean is simply enormous and the nearest coastline desolate; and/or that the delay in moving the search to the SIO was long enough to allow it to scatter and sink. Agreed, neither is satisfying.
I met a couple of Malaysian friends. And they told me that the government intentionally drowned it.
They also tell me that everyone knows , but keeps quiet or they could get into big time trouble. They claim that even the US knows of this.
What do you make of that ?
I think that's what happens when officials aren't transparent from the beginning: they encourage conspiracy theories. As for that particular one, it's on the very low-end of the probability scale. What's the motive for Malaysia to down one of it's own civilian airliners, what's the motive of the US to cover up that fact (I'd think the State Department would instead be screaming at us to avoid Malaysian airliners). Too many people would know, and they couldn't all be forced to keep quiet. And, not for nothing, if it's such a closely held secret, how come everyone knows?
What is the likelihood it was blown out of the sky (perhaps in the "failed hijacking" scenario) in an entirely different area than they're searching?
What do you think about the Rothschild-Patent conspiracy theory?
Slim, on the first part. One, the satellite data pretty conclusively has MH370 airborne until it ran out of fuel and, two, too many people would know if it had been shot down. And if it had been shot-down to foil a 9/11 type attack, there would be no reason to cover it up, at least not one compelling enough to justify creating a mystery of this magnitude. As to the second, improbable to the point of nonsense.
Did you have any reservations about flying after talking to some of the people you interviewed?
No. 2014 was the safest aviation year on record, despite MH370 and MH17. It's still the safest and quickest way to get around.
What has been Australia's motivation in taking the charge in the MH 370 search?
I can't say for certain, but it began with proximity and evolved into a matter of competence. There were Australian citizens on board, so they had legal right to be involved, and if there's going to be massive search off the coast, better to be in charge of it than not.
Did you find most of the families had accepted that their loved ones weren't coming home? Were any still hopeful that they might be found?
The ones I spoke with, yes, they were still hopeful -- but not delusional. They fully understand the odds are vaporously thin that anyone is still alive. But until they know for certain that it crashed, there's always going to be a tiny sliver to hang on to.
Do you think the Malaysian government has totally flubbed this investigation? Seems like they have been incompetent from day one here.
Yes, and that was pretty well confirmed (though not in those words) in the interim report released yesterday. The delay in responding to a missing airliner was fairly inexcusable. Had protocols been followed, the plane might still have wandered off, but we'd know where.
What didnt add up about the case??
None of the theories makes sense. Pilot suicide? There's no evidence that either the pilot or co-pilot was the malevolent or psychotic, and while there have been other pilot murder/suicides, none has flown for eight hours into the middle of nowhere first. A catastrophe severe enough to disable all communications but allow the aircraft to keep flying would be of a sort never before encountered. Hijacking or attempted hijacking? Typically, we'd expect someone to take credit (even spuriously).
can you tell us something about MH370 that we never heared?
That depends on how closely you've followed it. One of the more surprising things for me was how soon the Malaysian government knew about the Inmarsat satellite data. Its existence wasn't officially announced until March 15, a week after the flight and at least seven days (probably seven and a half days) after the Malaysians had been told the plane had been communicating for hours after it vanished from radar.
So how many times did you fly Malaysia Airlines?
Zero, but I swear that wasn't intentional. All my miles are on Delta.
Do you think the people on board knew what was going on long before the plane began to plummet?
Lord, I hope not. Several of the better theories involve the passengers and crew being overcome by either fumes or hypoxia before the plane veered south on autopilot. It's quite likely they knew something was going wrong, but also quite likely they were unconscious or dead before the plane ran out of fuel.
When you do your research on a story like this, is it a full time effort? Or do you research and edit other stories all at the same time? How about while writing it?
I've always got a couple of irons in the fire, other story ideas and side projects. But for the major features, yes, they become full-time during the heaviest reporting phase and then during the writing and editing, particularly when they're time sensitive.
What're the odds a plane like the 777-200ER could be reasonably intact with a water landing, producing little to no debris?
Given the prevailing winds and currents in the southern Indian Ocean, would flotsam from such a crash meet land within a year?
To the first part, very slim -- especially in the dark on that ocean. But possible in the abstract.
To the second, depends on the model and the modeler, but most would say yes. Yet so far, none has been found.
how long did it take you to write this story?
Writing took a couple of weeks, but the reporting took a little more than two months.
Is your sense from reporting that the Chinese are active in the search behind the scenes, or are they not as engaged as one might expect of the regional superpower? If the latter, why is that?
Yes, definitely involved. But it is curious that the Chinese have been so quiet, publicly at least. Most the the passengers were Chinese nationals, and one would think they'd be a bit noisier.
Let's say the plane is found 30 years from now. What do you think your first thought/emotion would be?
Thanks for your work!
After stunned gratitude that I'm still alive? Surprise, obviously, but also impressed that someone had the tenacity to keep looking. Which, by the way, I do believe someone will searching.
'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' of course. But what about informal speculation? Could you muse here about some possible/likely version of events, which may have at some point been tempting to consider but which could never be supported by enough evidence? Did any of the more 'conspiratorial' scenarios seem at some point like it might be worth considering?
It was shockingly easy to tumble down a few rabbit holes along the way. Boeing's uninterruptible auto-pilot kept me awake a night or two, as did the mangosteens-that-maybe-weren't-mangosteens in the cargo hold. There's no evidence that either of those played a role -- but there's not really evidence to support any theory beyond a certain point. There's just so little data. What we do know is that MH370 was almost certainly (even the word certainly needs a mild caveat) under deliberate human control at least until it rounded the northern tip of Sumatra. It also flew a route that appears designed to keep it as hidden as possible. If the captain or co-pilot was still in command, that would suggest a suicide plot (in the case of a fire or rapid decompression, they would have gotten the plane down to 10,000 feet, and there's no evidence that happened). But there's no reason to suspect either man had a motive to fly off, kill himself, and murder 238 people. That leaves the option of a hijacker(s) taking control, and maintaining control at least until Sumatra. Then what? Everyone on board is incapacitated -- perhaps a decompression event -- and the plane continues until it runs out of fuel. That is my informal informed speculation: a failed hijacking attempt is the least unlikeliest explanation. But only by a slim margin.
Do you think that the families will eventually receive closure once the plane is found? Or will the mishandling of the investigation always be an open wound?
"Closure" is one of those difficult words, because it can mean so many different things to different people. Will having physical proof of a crash make any difference? Ghyslain Wattrelos, who lost his wife and two of his children, was pondering that. He wondered if maybe it would be worse, once everything is settled and he no longer occupies himself trying to figure out what happened. That said, yes, I think the mishandling is always going to generate some rage, at least for some of the next of kin.
When you say hijacked does that include the possibility of electronicly takeing over the plane from a computer somewhere in the world?A remote takeover on a plane that uses computers to fly.
Almost no possibility can be dismissed out of hand (though I'll go out on a limb and cross out black holes and aliens). The technology exists, though the exact capabilities are unclear, as is whether MH370 was even equipped with it. That said, why? Presumably if someone had the technical ability to remotely take control of a civilian airliner, they also would have to ability to land it somewhere. And any reason they would have for doing so -- other that just to prove their technological mastery -- could be accomplished by simpler means that didn't involve killing 239 people. So I'd say unlikely.
My tin-foil-hat scenario for MH370 is that it was hijacked. Sometime in the future another flight traveling roughly a similar path - but whose destination is a major center in the USA - will also vanish within that same blind spot. Then the original MH370 lost plane... loaded with [insert nasty scenario here] will re-appear in its place.. with the same transponder code, etc... and will arrive, albeit a little bit late, to its US destination with a bang.
Is there any possibility of this scenario??
Again, few theories can be outright dismissed. But that's way down at the bottom of the probability scale. One, the best evidence has the flight ending in the middle of the Indian Ocean, which is a terrible place to hide a plane. Two, there's no roughly similar path to a KL-Beijing run that ends in the U.S. Three, why go to all that evil bother? I don't doubt the capacity for wicked deeds, but there are easier ways to do it.
I wanted to thank you for the time spent researching and writing such a conclusive and insightful article and also for this AMA. Do you think there can be anything more that airline companies can do? You say it was 17 minutes before anyone noticed is had no signal on the radar? Can more be done tracking wise to mean that this cannot happen again in the future?
You're very kind. Thank you. And, yes, there is a lot airlines can do. There's really no excuse, other than saving a few bucks, for not having every aircraft tracked on more or less real time.
The interim report was out yesterday. Malaysia's ex-prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir has dismissed it as ridiculous and speculated on 'technology interference' in the matter. Have you read the report and if yes, what do you think about it?
I saw that. I'm not sure precisely what he means by "technology interference," but there is no reason to suspect Inmarsat is making things up. As for the report, I've read the summaries and have just started going through all 584 pages. So far, I'm not seeing it tell us anything that wasn't already known, except for the pinger battery being dead.
What are your thoughts on the theory that the plane "kept flying up out the Earth's atmosphere"?
I'm going to put that in with the black holes and aliens.