The Travel Detective

The Travel Detective Blog: What MH17 Means for Malaysia Airlines

MH370 Boeing 777 (2)Catastrophe and irony, coincidence and crime, horror and mystery, missiles and madness…and yes, wild speculation. All that and more surrounds the two tragic Malaysia Airlines’ incidents.

There are some points of commonality. The same airline. The same type of aircraft. One possibly attacked by a missile, the other missing for months.

There are no easy answers…yet. But the most recent case of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 being shot down over the Ukraine is very different from the disappearance of MH370 last March.

In this case, it brings back memories of Pan Am 103, the 747 that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. A bomb packed inside a Toshiba boom box detonated at 31,000 feet and ripped the jumbo jet apart. Headwinds spread the wreckage an improbable 840 square miles.

But in the case of Pan Am 103—and I presume the same will happen in this case—the investigators had almost immediate access to the crime scene and a huge amount of hard evidence to help them start to build a careful, compelling, and convincing forensic case.

So, a similar situation is shaping up with this latest Malaysia Airlines plane. Despite a wide debris field (which clearly indicates the plane broke up at altitude), the investigators know what to look for first, and they’re already close to finding it.

They particularly want to examine what’s remaining outside of the fuselage. With Pan Am 103, investigators knew within five hours that a bomb had ripped the plane apart. How? They studied the metal. On the inside part of the metal fuselage they found striation marks consistent with the chemical explosive Semtex. They found no burn marks on the outside of the fuselage, and this was significant. The plane had not been hit by a missile. Because the metal was bent outwards, not inwards, that was also consistent with their theory—and later proven—that a massive explosive device went off inside the luggage hold.

In this case, investigators will be looking for the same things: Striation marks, scorch points, and which way key metal parts of the fuselage are bent.

They will also hunt down the CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder), which should be able to help them build a precise timeline of events.

The chemical investigation won’t take long. I suspect that by Monday we’ll have a pretty clear picture of what brought the Malaysia plane down…and how. What we may not know right away is by whom.

In the meantime, the entire balance of Malaysia Airlines is at stake. The government-owned airline was already in financial trouble before the disappearance of MH370, and quickly suffered a substantial drop in passenger load. The Malaysian government, through third parties, has been quietly trying to shop the airline to the private sector. Malaysia Airlines desperately needs to be bailed out. But so far, no takers. Today’s tragedy will undoubtedly make financial matters worse.

Even if Malaysia Airlines is not found negligent in this case, the damage has been done. Individual travelers, companies, and travel agents have been booking away from MH for months now, and that, coupled with the worst four letter word, FEAR, could easily and quickly financially cripple the airline. Government sources in Malaysia tell me that one option currently on the table is to ground and liquidate the airline if a buyer can’t be found soon.

Plus, because of the way both the Malaysian government and the airline bungled the handling of the aftermath of MH370, it’s possible the government may be on the threshold of losing a vote of confidence.

Again, I must emphasize that certain protocols should be practiced by both the investigators and the media after a tragic crash—you have to painstakingly and systematically rule everything out before you can rule any one thing in. MH370 remains a mystery, and it may stay one for the foreseeable future. But today’s incident may not remain a mystery for very long.

Investigators are moving fast to assemble special “go” teams, ranging from engineers and metallurgy experts, to human factors, weather, airframe, and propulsion specialists.

Within the next 96 hours, it’s entirely possible—based on the hard evidence being collected—we may soon know the when, where, and how. Then comes the hard part—knowing the why and most importantly…the who.

For more information about the disappearance of MH370, visit: