A science writer and pilot who has regularly appeared on TV to discuss the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has posited an intriguing theory as to what became of the notorious plane.
Jeff Wise laid out his proposition in a feature for New York Magazine entitled: How Crazy Am I To Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?
Wise, who at some points has popped up on CNN up to six times a day to comment on the search, believes hijackers may have taken the plane off course and landed it in Kazakhstan, something the country has repeatedly denied.
The aircraft went missing on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board. The Beijing-bound Boeing 777 disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.
Wise, a Huffington Post blogger, believes the plane could have been deliberately flown along national borders, which he says military navigators state is a good way to avoid being spotted on radar.
He wrote: “There aren’t a lot of places to land a plane as big as the 777, but as luck would have it, I found one: a place… called Baikonur Cosmodrome.
"Baikonur is leased from Kazakhstan by Russia. A long runway there called Yubileyniy was built for a Russian version of the Space Shuttle.
Highlighting the fact that suspicion also fell on Russia or Russian-backed militia for the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in July, Wise writes: “Whether the plane went to Baikonur or elsewhere in Kazakhstan, my suspicion fell on Russia… Why exactly would [Vladimir] Putin want to steal a Malaysia passenger plane? I had no idea.
“Maybe he wanted to demonstrate to the United States, which had imposed the first punitive sanctions on Russia the day before, that he could hurt the West and its allies anywhere in the world. Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane’s passengers. Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold. Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere someday, packed with explosives.”
He allows: "There’s no way to know. That’s the thing about MH370 theory-making: It’s hard to come up with a plausible motive for an act that has no apparent beneficiaries."
Wise points out there were three “ethnically Russian” men aboard the jet and muses: “Could any of these men be special forces or covert operatives?”
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Wise said: "I spent a good chunk of last year telling friends and acquaintances about my research, and most of them thought I had a screw loose.
"I think what’s different about now is that as time has gone by and the official search has continued to come up empty handed, there’s a growing awareness of the need to consider alternative scenarios.
"Whether or not my hypothesis turns out to be correct, I hope that the attention that’s being focused on MH370 right now will help shake loose some of the missing pieces that independent investigators have been looking for.
"So much of what we know today is a result of knowledgeable individuals coming forward to share their insights, and I’m hoping that process will continue."
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Wise has also published a personal blog on his theory. Referring to it as his “spoof” hypothesis, he wrote:
“I’m intrigued by the possibility that MH370 might have been hijacked and flown north to the Yubileyniy Aerodrome within the Baikonur Cosmodrome. If so, it would have come to rest on the specially-milled concrete at approximately an hour and a half before sunrise on Sunday, March 8. And then what? If it stayed where it was, it would have been easy to spot by land-imaging satellites overhead. To avoid detection, it would have to have either refueled and taken off again, or found some kind of shelter.”
Wise illustrates his blog with Google Earth images of the site, which has sat disused since 1989 and in his own words is “a terrible place to hide a 210-foot long, 60-foot-high airplane”.
Realising the most recent images were taken in 2012, Wise contacted a company which allowed him to view more recent high-resolution satellite images for free and his findings are certainly intriguing.
In an image dated 31 October 2013, the same spot looks markedly different. Trucks are on the scene and a large rectangle of dirt has been bulldozed.
Wise writes: “I’m not sure what this dirt rectangle represents… but what really gets my attention is the size of the thing. To give you a sense of scale, I’ve superimposed an equivalently proportioned 777 silhouette onto the image.”
Wise’s next image of the same site is dated 26 April 2014 and shows the rectangle has been erased and all debris swept away.
He surmises: “So here’s the situation: nothing happens at Yubileyniy for decades; then, four months before MH370 disappears, the Russians start building a 777-sized something-or-other a mile and a half from a giant disused airstrip. Then, a month after the plane disappears, the area looks like it’s been erased. What had happened in the meantime?”
Wise's theory has been roundly scoffed at by Russian news website RT, with blogger Nebojsa Malic describing it as "anti-Russia propaganda" and stating: "Wise has clearly fallen victim to what psychologists call confirmation bias - a tendency to see and interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions."
She adds: "Baikonur isn’t some sort of secret Area 51 facility; all manned space flights to the International Space Station (ISS) take off from there. In fact, the first part of Expedition 40 to the ISS took off from Baikonur on March 25, 2014.
"What's next? Accusing Putin of controlling the weather?"
Jeff Wise has a Kindle Single The Plane That Wasn't There: Why We Haven't Found MH370 available on Amazon.