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New Information May Narrow Down Malaysian Jet's Path 227

Posted by timothy
from the not-that-hard-to-lose-a-plane dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes with this excerpt from Slate on the still-missing Malaysian Airline flight "In a case that is swirling with uncertainties, a few pieces of evidence have stood apart for seeming reliability. Among them was the revelation last Saturday by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak that his country's investigators, in collaboration with U.S. authorities, had analyzed an electronic ping that MH370 had broadcast to the Inmarsat satellite at 8:11 a.m. on the morning of the disappearance. Based on this data, the investigators had determined that at that moment MH370 must have been somewhere along one of two broad arcs: one which passed through Central Asia, and the other of which covered a swath of largely empty Indian Ocean, far to the south. The revelation left a burning question unresolved: what about the six earlier pings, which had been exchanged between the aircraft and the satellite about once per hour? Could any position data be deduced from them? Today, Inmarsat revealed some crucial information. 'The ping timings got longer,' Inmarsat spokesman Chris McLaughlin stated via email. That is to say, at each stage of its journey, the aircraft got progressively farther away from the geostationary satellite's position, located over a spot on the equator south of Pakistan, and never changed its heading in a direction that took it closer—at least for very long."
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New Information May Narrow Down Malaysian Jet's Path

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  • The intermediate pings have always been considered along with the final pings to determine the arcs. The information at the end of the article - that a southern flight would be found on Indonesian primary radar returns - seems to contradict the large search effort being carried out currently on the southern corridor. It's also entirely possible that the flight wasn't picked up on Indonesian radar - even though it did fly south - if the Indonesian radar capability was not operating as it was expected to.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:58AM (#46549595) Homepage Journal

      Primary radars are short range devices. Its pretty easy to evade them, by design or by accident. Having said that the aircraft would have to have been steered south after it crossed the Malay peninsula to the west, and there is no explanation for that at the moment. My hope is that the southern ocean search is being run to give the illusion of action while the US and China prepare to extract hostages from one of the [a-z]stans.

      • by Aighearach (97333) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:41PM (#46553469) Homepage

        I agree totally, but I think it is dubious to put the families and public through this much disinformation.

        There is really no reason to think it crashed. That was a good first guess when it was just "missing," but since we know it was taken by the crew, that would seem to reset the whole idea. What new information is consistent with a crash? None.

        They just keep parading this absurd "2500 nautical mile" BS. That is the range if they had loaded fuel for a flight to Beijing. But the plane has a range of over 7000 miles fully loaded. Nobody has produced anything that even claims to verify or offer proof that the aircraft was fueled the way the paperwork says. And you would need an airport free of corruption to even have a chance of proving it; if lots of fuel is regularly being stolen or otherwise misappropriated, there is simply no possible way to verify the fuel that was loaded.

        And the whole idea, "well gee, they stole a vehicle, and it was supposed to only had a half tank of gas... it must have crashed because it didn't get to the destination!" That is a real Keystone Kops sort of scenario to be saying that. It is pretty obviously BS. The most likely reason to hijack it is to take hostages. The next most likely is to use the plane as a missile in the future. The next most likely is to sell it off. The whole "pilot suicide" thing seems pretty silly. You'd need a suicide pact between multiple crew members to pull that off, and the co-pilot was new. Much more likely is a religious, political, or criminal association between them. And in that scenario, a suicide pact would involve crashing into something, not just flying off over the ocean until the fuel runs out.

        The whole misinformation scheme is dangerous; if they rescue the passengers, fine. Then they'll be beyond most criticism. But that is a long-shot. If the terrorists suddenly show up on TV killing hostages, all the misinformation will look really bad, and they'll get a huge propaganda coup. In other words... they better know where the plane is and have special forces on the ground, or they're just being idiots.

    • by Stellian (673475) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:20AM (#46549797)

      Here's a map of the pings:
      http://theaviationist.com/wp-c... [theaviationist.com]

      • Here is another link saying the same about all seven pings: http://www.themalaymailonline.... [themalaymailonline.com] "Engineers at Inmarsat Plc, whose satellite picked up the pings, plotted seven positions for the Boeing Co 777-200ER on March 8, Chris McLaughlin, a company spokesman, said in an interview. The plane flew steadily away from the satellite over the equator while pinging, McLaughlin said. Malaysia needs to verify that information, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the chief of the nation’s civil aviation, said in K
      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @07:04AM (#46550223)

        I think that we are going to be in for a very, very long wait before we find out what happened— we're not talking about weeks or months, but many years. When Air France 447 went down, debris and an oil slick was spotted within 24 hours of the plane's loss. Even with that lead, it took almost two years, including the use of towed sonar arrays, nuclear and robotic submarines, and autonomous robotic underwater vehicles, to finally located the wreckage and salvage the plane and black boxes.

        Here, the situation is vastly more challenging. Locating the wreckage of Air France 447 quickly, before it had time to drift far, meant that it was possible to narrow down the search area considerably; the initial search area was around 2400 square miles- a 50 mile by 50 mile area. Here, the search area is almost a hundred times that- the area the Australians have been searching is something like 230,000 square miles. That's roughly the size of Texas. It's also in the middle of nowhere- between Australia and the Kerguelen islands, putting it about 1500 miles away from land. That's making it difficult to do aerial searches- the planes burn most of their fuel getting there and back, so there's little time for searches. It sounds like the weather isn't fantastic either, so visibility is limited, and satellite photos of the suspected wreckage show a lot of white, which I assume is whitecaps from heavy seas. That's going to make it difficult or impossible to spot wreckage on radar- the waves are going to be reflecting back a lot of signal, creating a lot of noise- or visually. The heavy wave action could also cause floating sections of wing or tail to fill up with water more quickly and sink. Finally, the plane went down two weeks ago, so if any wreckage is recovered, it could be hundreds of miles from the crash site.

        At this point, I'm going to guess that no wreckage will be found, or it will be found too late to provide any useful information about the location of the plane beyond confirming that it's in the southern Indian Ocean. Given that, we are talking about an underwater search using sonar that is going to cover hundreds of thousands of square miles, in waters up to 16,000 feet deep. That would require either years of effort, or a small fleet of underwater vehicles scanning the seafloor. This assumes that the deductions made from the satellite data are even correct. It's not impossible, but it is very, very difficult. My guess is that new technologies- making it possible for robotic vehicles to scan larger areas of seafloor, in higher resolution than ever before- may be necessary.

      • by JMJimmy (2036122)

        This is the kind of geek info I expect on Slashdot, not some crappy slate article. Thank you!

      • Map not factual (Score:5, Informative)

        by craighansen (744648) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @10:26AM (#46550989)

        Unfortunately, this map has non-factual locations for the circles other than 8:11. The angle information for the earlier pings has not been released, but artwork was drawn up that estimated these earlier pings from the reported estimated tracks attributed to the NTSB. This artwork, drawn by Scott Henderson, was likely the source for the map on theaviationist.com's site. See http://willyloman.wordpress.co... [wordpress.com] for details.

        Inmarsat has been coy about the exact value of the ping angles. They issued a press release that said that the information had been given to the Malaysian government, and that anyone who wanted details should contact Malaysia. See http://www.inmarsat.com/news/i... [inmarsat.com] IMHO, they have been doing this because the earlier ping data may make clearer that the aircraft track takes it over Malaysia, where the lack of detection may be a source of official embarrassment.

        The earlier ping data may also indicate whether MH370 overflew Indonesia, or whether it flew west to avoid Indonesia, and that has an effect on the plane's remaining range and the estimate of the flight's bearing when it presumably turned southward toward the 90E/45S region where the SAR operations have been focused lately. It would appear that this data was factored into the NTSB track estimates, but the lack of an official release of the angle data has hampered the armchair/amateur speculation about the location. IMHO, if MH370 avoided overflying Indonesia, it may have been a deliberate attempt to lay a false track in a west or northwest direction.

    • The Indonesians have searched their military radar records and did not detect the plane. http://www.antaranews.com/en/n... [antaranews.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2014 @12:42AM (#46549155)

    http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnns-don-lemon-is-it-preposterous-to-think-a-black-hole-caused-flight-370-to-go-missing/

    Don Lemmon: " “is it preposterous” to consider a black hole as a possibility?"

    ' Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said, “A small black hole would suck in our entire universe, so we know it’s not that.” '

    Our brightest minds are working on this...

    • by Brett Buck (811747) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @12:51AM (#46549175)

      Because the extra weight may have caused the island to capsize:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

    • by Smerta (1855348)

      When I heard that exchange at an airport, I wanted to reach through the TV screen and strangle both of those idiots.

      Look, not everyone's a scientist or engineer, but don't just start spouting off shit like you know what you're talking about. Lemon's question was inane, but Schiavo's answer was so absurd, my fourth-grade daughter, who's recently learned /of/ black holes, tilted her head in a "WTF?!?!" kind of way when I replayed that video for her the next day.

    • by Smerta (1855348)

      When I heard that exchange at an airport, I wanted to reach through the TV screen and strangle both of those idiots.

      Look, not everyone's a scientist or engineer, but don't just start spouting off shit like you know what you're talking about. Lemon's question was inane, but Schiavo's answer was so absurd, my fourth-grade daughter, who's recently learned /of/ black holes, tilted her head in a "WTF?!?!" kind of way when I replayed that video for her the next day.

      • by Chewbacon (797801)

        You mean government officials don't know everything? C'mon, if Schiavo said a tiny black hole would suck in our entire universe, then obviously science will bend to her words!

    • Don Lemmon: " “is it preposterous” to consider a black hole as a possibility?"

      Most definitely (as the above poster and most readers will have spotted).
      We live in a universe with Stephen Hawking in it instead of a fictional one with Dan Brown's characters in it. Due to that a black hole with a mass of a bus has a life of under a second. Why are we giving bodybuilders air time to regurgitate their thoughts misinformed by novels that rely on incredibly fucking stupid plot devices?

    • by slashmydots (2189826) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:48AM (#46549563)
      Well then I hope the Langoliers don't get them.
    • OK, other than a simple, "Yes", how do you think Schiavo should have responded? (Let us assume that none of the "experts" on the panel know anything more about black holes than she does, so she's on the spot.)

      • by DarkOx (621550)

        She could respond with I don't know, i'm not an astrophysics expert. She should then go on to explain that occam's razor says the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, so we will should really confirm plane hasn't crashed into the sea or on land somewhere before we devote a lot of effort into considering extraordinary possibilities like black holes.

    • The plane is in Russia.

      The Russian Raja "You know I'm, Vlad, I'm bad," Putin declared that he has annexed the territory of the plane, which is now part of the Russian Federation, on wishes of the Russian-speaking passengers of the plane.

      The plane was carrying rebel NSA operatives, who are part of a Mulder-Scullyist-Snowden freedom-fries-fighters group known as "The Stoned Gunmen", who were trying to flee to China via Malaysia from Indonesia on their way to the asylum known as "Sancuary" for people over 30

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        You're tinfoil hat seems to be slightly out of adjustment. As luck would have it, I'm running a special sale on tinfoil hat adjustments this week. For the standard adjustment, the price is normally $400, but during this special it's only $325.

  • I'm no aviation expert but if I were to design a black box , I'd put a radio beacon on it (activated on impact) and a sonar beacon (activated on being submerged) . Someone on /. had pointed out that they already have such beacons which ping for 30 days after activation. Why are they not picking any of that? Have they used submarines in the search?
    • No. You are the first person who has thought of this. You should call 911, and get them to forward your valuable hint to the head of the search effort.

    • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @01:45AM (#46549353)
      The planes have ELTs [wikipedia.org] designed to activate upon impact and relay their GPS location to satellites (Steve Fossett's plane would've been found within hours if he had had one of these). AFAIK those aren't waterproof though. The escape slides (which double as rafts) should have EPIRBs aboard, which are waterproof. However if the rafts aren't deployed then obviously they'll sink and the EPIRBs won't do a whole lot of good.

      The black boxes give off a 35 KHz acoustic ping every second. The batteries should be good for 30-35 days. Unfortunately, 35 KHz sound attenuates rapidly in seawater, so you only likely to hear it up to about 2 km away. If the plane is sitting in more than 2 km of water, the only way you'll hear the pings is if you're very lucky on the surface, or from deep water submersibles.

      I think the assumption was that you would have enough radar data to narrow down the search area to a few hundred or few thousand square km at most. AF447 was probably considered a fluke. Now that a second plane has "disappeared" in a similar manner, expect to see the required locating equipment changed. One obvious change would be to equip all commercial aircraft with an EPIRB designed to float free if the plane sinks. It won't give you the plane's exact location due to wind and currents, but it'll prevent these "we have no idea where the plane is" situations. Unlike the previous locating idea posted on /. which cost $100k per plane, an EPIRB only costs a few hundred dollars.
      • by kenwd0elq (985465) <kenwd0elq@gmail.com> on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:23AM (#46549493)

        Ummmm....... Not necessarily so. Sound under water can be ducted through sound channels and convergence zones. Depending on the depth/pressure, the salinity, and the temperature, faint noises can by heard by a hydrophone hundreds of miles away - but NOT detectable on a hydrophone a half-mile away that isn't at the sound channel depth. (Source: I was an airborne acoustic sensor operator for several years in P-3 Orion ASW aircraft, long long ago). I'm guessing that every US submarine that transits the IO for the next ten years will have secondary tasking to search for MH370.

        Of course, if the airplane is on the bottom, in the mud, or in an abyssal trench, the sound could be muffled and not audible even a dozen yards away. Since we have essentially no clue where the airplane is (except that we can be pretty sure it isn't in the "black hole" between Don Lemon's ears) the whole search effort is, essentially, a crap shoot.

        We actually had better data on the Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic a few years ago. They eventually recovered the flight data recorders, although it took almost 2 years. But we had a pretty good idea of the track of the aircraft, even though we didn't know WHEN it had gone down.

        Here, we can't even be certain that it went down. There are only three good chances for what happened to it. 1) It went down at sea. 2) It crashed into the jungle. Or 3), it landed someplace and is being hidden. The only thing we can be certain of is that it's not flying any longer.

        • . I'm guessing that every US submarine that transits the IO for the next ten years will have secondary tasking to search for MH370.

          Almost certainly not since the pings will fall silent in the next two weeks.

          We actually had better data on the Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic a few years ago. They eventually recovered the flight data recorders, although it took almost 2 years. But we had a pretty good idea of the track of the aircraft, even though we didn't know WHEN it had gone down.

          Actu

      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @07:34AM (#46550293)

        It would seem like there should be a number of options for tracking planes. For $150 and $100 annual service charge, you can buy a SPOT personal GPS tracking device that will broadcast your position every five minutes. It needs an unobstructed view of the sky to work. In other words, stick it up on the dash of the airplane.

        FLYHT Aerospace from Calgary sells a satellite tracking system that sends routine updates on position, heading, altitude, and airspeed via satellite. It is also designed to be able to function as a black box. It's too expensive to be continuously transmitting the data, but it's set up so that during certain circumstances the device will trigger, and then transmit flight data in real time. The system is already in use by a number of companies, including Netjets, but hasn't been widely adopted by larger aircraft. If the system had been installed on the Air France flight, they would not have had to wait two years for the black box data. If it had been installed here, it could have tracked the plane or, if the pilot turned it off, they would have immediately known that there was a problem. This is the one that costs $100,000 but you're talking about a plane that can cost $260,000,000; requiring that companies install satellite tracking is not going to radically change the price of the aircraft, and presumably as technology improves the price will come down.

        And of course what a lot of people in the media seem to be missing is that the plane in question already had satellite communications, it just wasn't using them. The engines were designed to talk to a satellite; it should have been possible to use that system to routinely send position data. Many planes have internet in flight. If the planes are already capable of using satellite internet, then it's just an issue of being able to send position/speed/heading data over the plane's wifi network. It just strikes me as amazing that after all the security theater following 9/11, we have a system that carefully controls how much shampoo you can bring in your carry-on luggage, yet is completely incapable of responding if someone steals an entire aircraft.

        • "... we have a system that carefully controls how much shampoo you can bring in your carry-on luggage, yet is completely incapable of responding if someone steals an entire aircraft."
        • by HJED (1304957)
          The plane did have systems for location tracking with satellites, they were turned off by a person or persons unknown. (one of the theories was the satellite array broke, but that doesn't make sense with the engine data).
    • by hankwang (413283) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @01:48AM (#46549365) Homepage

      "they already have such beacons which ping for 30 days after activation. Why are they not picking any of that? "

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

      Typical detection range is 5 km. Say the plane can be in a 2000x2000 sq km area. Then you have to search in a search path that is 200x2000=400,000 km long. That's 10x around the earth and will take a while.

      And the ocean is 4 km deep once you're well away from land; because of the vertical distance you have less horizontal range.

      • "they already have such beacons which ping for 30 days after activation. Why are they not picking any of that? "

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

        Solandri answers that above.

        The link did answer my question as to where one would place an EPIRB (distress radiobeacon) also mentioned by Solandri, right to the fuselage.

        FTA "ULBs are also sometimes required to be attached directly to an aircraft fuselage."

  • by careysub (976506) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @01:02AM (#46549223)

    Here is a very detailed account of the trajectory data now available from Reuters [reuters.com]. Maybe someone on this board knows air routes in South East Asia and can provide analysis or pointers to useful maps?

  • by DeathElk (883654) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:00AM (#46549415)

    If any trace is found in Australian waters, it will either be detained or culled.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:17AM (#46549475)

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

    I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

    The fact that the pilot had built his own simulator also has a mundane reason that somebody on pprune had tracked down: He assisted with giving a real pilot's feedback to a third-party developer of aircraft for flight simulators (X-Plane IIRC).

    • by DeathElk (883654)

      The simplest answer is usually correct. Instead we get the typical murdoch media response i.e. the pilots were not Caucasian, they must be terrorists.

    • http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

      I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

      FTA "the pilot may have ascended to 45,000 feet in a last-ditch effort to quell a fire by seeking the lowest level of oxygen."

      I've thought this could of been the reason for the ascension but felt if I mentioned it, it would be seen as a cruel joke as the passengers would be incapacitated as well.

    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:12PM (#46552559)

      http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

      I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

      The fact that the pilot had built his own simulator also has a mundane reason that somebody on pprune had tracked down: He assisted with giving a real pilot's feedback to a third-party developer of aircraft for flight simulators (X-Plane IIRC).

      Occam's Razor isn't the simplest explanation, it's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts. And this is definitely not that. According to the fire scenario, there's a fire and so they shut down the electrical systems, set in a new course on autopilot, and after the crew succumbs, the plane keeps going in a straight line... the problem with this scenario is that the plane DOES NOT follow a straight line.

      According to the military radar the plane turns west, climbs to 45,000 feet, then descends to 23,000 feet, turns again, climbs, and flies towards the Indian Ocean- and then the satellite pings suggest it turns again, either north or more likely south, towards the Indian Ocean. All facts suggest that the plane is being actively piloted, and not towards safety but deliberately away from it, in such a way that finding the plane, let alone rescuing the victims, will be impossible.

      The reason that the fire scenario is popular is not because of Occam's Razor, but because it appeals to what we want to believe about human nature, and about the people flying our planes. We'd like to believe that whatever happened, the pilots did their best until the very last, and were heroes trying to save everyone. The alternative is that the person piloting the plane- most likely the pilot or copilot- was a deeply disturbed human being, someone who not only decided to kill everyone on board, people who had entrusted their safety to him, but to do so in a way that would torment their relatives and capture international media attention. It's also unlikely that it would be possible to convince the other pilot to go along with this plan, so they would have to be killed or incapacitated before shutting down the transponders and changing course. Maybe that's not what happened, but that's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts... and it does not point to a hero.

    • I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

      What does Occam's Razor have to say about a fire bad enough to take out radio and transponders but the plane is able to keep flying for seven hours?

      Hint: NOT POSSIBLE. Which is what many other pilots have also said in response to that article.

      Also not mentioned in that article is that there are large airports even closer than the one mentioned, so why not go to those? And the autopilot was told to turn before the "Good Night" call, why not

    • by Dan East (318230) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:55PM (#46553573) Homepage Journal

      The fire theory is wrong, and it is not the simplest explanation in any shape or form. Not only was transponder switched off, but ACARS was too. Here's the thing - ACARS kept transmitting for 7 hours!! That system was fully functional - it had power, it was still transmitting to the stations. That is how we know the plane did not crash immediately. It was manually switched to a mode in which it no longer actively sent data.

      If there was a fire on board, then it magically: Took out all radios instantly, switched ACARS operating mode (plus ACARS can also be used to send messages, and the system was still working, yet it wasn't utilized to report an emergency either), killed the transponder, shut down the preprogrammed autopilot course, flew the plane for 7 hours with multiple heading changes and many "abnormal" altitude changes (flying above flight ceiling for the aircraft, flying lower than normal over Malaysia, etc), instantly killed every passenger (because no cell phones were switched on or even passively connected while flying lower than normal over Malaysia), allowed the pilot to manually fly the plane for hours (multiple altitude and course changes that were very strange) but without trying any other methods of communication (cell phones, ACARS messages, etc), and it all started IMMEDIATELY after Malaysia air traffic controllers turned over control of the aircraft as it was leaving their airspace. That is not the simplest explanation by any stretch of the imagination. The simplest explanation is: Someone with a technical knowledge of the aircraft decided to do whatever the hell they wanted with it at the very first opportunity when the plane was not longer being monitored by Malaysian flight controllers.

      Personally, I believe one of two things had to have happened immediately after the "event" began (when the plane was released by Malaysia air traffic control) - 1) the pilot managed to kill all the passengers extremely fast - for example by flying at a very high elevation (above the service ceiling even) and depressurizing the plane (at that elevation people lose consciousness in under 8 seconds), or 2) none of the passengers suspected anything was wrong until far out into the Indian ocean and out the range of all land-based cell towers.

  • ... when you find the fucking thing.
  • There seem to be some mathematically irreconcilable things happening here. It is time to test some of these assumptions. A similar plane needs to be flown over proposed routes and altitudes with the same systems shut down to see if the satellite pings are consistent with a GPS log and to see if there are gaps in radar coverage that can account for the plane not turning up in records from Indonesia or Thailand or Myanmar or Bangladesh.
  • What's that? The pings "got longer"? OMG I've never heard that before, that sounds like new information!, post. post. post. post. post.

    Ummm, except this was all published FIVE DAYS AGO, simply in a more useful form:

    http://i1.minus.com/iPcccu2MDL... [minus.com]

    They've been searching based on this "new information" since TUESDAY:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/201... [abc.net.au]

    Slate, FutureWise, Jeff Wise, and Timothy, are all idiots who are FIVE DAYS OUT OF DATE.

  • The NSA and other US intelligence agencies have gone to insanely extreme lengths to avoid another 9/11 - like monitoring the majority of the world's electronic communications. 9/11 was done using commercial jets as weapons, so surely one of the highest priorities would be tracking every commercial jet that could be used to attack the US or its various military installations, embassies, factories, etc around the globe. Just imagine the shit storm there would be in the halls of power if terrorists pulled off

  • by kbahey (102895) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:09PM (#46555369) Homepage

    Here is a list of the current ten theories [bbc.co.uk] on the disappearance of flight MH370.

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