Hijacked Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 shadowed other airliners to escape detection?

According to the satellite data the hijacked MH370 was last spotted flying towards Pakistan or Indian Ocean. But if it took the northwestern route there was only one way to be invisible to radars.

More than one week since the flight disappered from the sky, Malaysian authorities are now almost certain that Malaysia Airlines MH370 was hijacked: even though it’s impossible to say what happened aboard, the transponder and other communication equipment aboard the Boeing 777 9M-MRO were deliberately switched off to prevent identification by Air Traffic Control radars.

Even more interestingly, based on data coming from satellites, the aircraft could have taken two different routes: a northernwestern one, towards Pakistan/China, and a western one towards the Indian Ocean.

The northwestern route would have brought the plane somewhere along a route from the last recorded radar position west of Malaysia to a point on a great circle stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border. In other words, MH370 might have crossed some of the most heavily guarded airspaces without being noticed.

Weird, isn’t it?

A Boeing 777 flying at 25,000 feet for seven hours crossing airways used by airplanes flying from Europe to Asia and vice versa and several airspaces surveilled by military and civilian radars, would leave a trace (and risk a mid-air or two on the way…)

The fact that it flew with a switched off transponder didn’t make it invisible: Air Traffic Control radars might have not noticed it (even if it is unlikely), but military air defense sites in most countries (Malaysia is probably not among them) do pay attention to primary returns that could be the sign of an unknown (or enemy) aircraft.

Provided the plane really went northwest, how did it pass unnoticed through the Indian or Pakistani airspace?


INMARSAT positions

Image credit: Office of Malaysia’s PM


Even though I still consider it quite unlikely, one of the possibilities is that the Boeing 777 shadowed another plane it encountered along the route.

Closing on another liner is not a common procedure, nor is it easy to perform with a large plane. But it is not completely impossible and, above all, such a daredevil maneuver worth an action movie, would have made the MH370 invisible to military radars.

Since the hijacking was very well executed and planned, 8 days after it went off radar with no idea where the plane crashed or landed, we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the operation foresaw a rendez-vous with another plane unaware of MH370, that could provide the shield to the Malaysia’s 777 hiding behind it.

Obviously, the Indian route is more likely, making research much more difficult and raising a question: why did the hijackers brought the plane westwards? Where did they plan to bring it?

As I said on Twitter earlier today, regardless of its crash or landing site the whole story will eventually highlight either impressive negligence (by air defenses of Malaysia and several other nations) or cover up attempt (for instance because the aircraft was shot down).

All the articles about MH370 can be read here (scroll down).

As a side note: the whole story reminds me of Lost drama fiction’s Oceanic 815 (incidentally, a Boeing 777) crash on an unknown island.

Image credit: Tomasz Bartkowiak, Reuters


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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I think Iran had something to do with it. If they have a nuclear weapon ready and wanted to get it to the U.S. what better way than to use another countries airline with passengers. If Iran did not want to cause attention to themselves they could have sent the 2 Iranians who have no ties to terrorist or the government , which would not raise questions and the plane would have enough fuel to reach Iran. And they would let the plane land and also have the capability to hide it till further use. And if they did send it towards the U.S. they know they wouldn’t shoot it down with all those innocent people or the U.S. would look very bad in the world’s eyes.

    • The entire world is looking for this plane. Wouldn’t it have drawn less attention to simply use some other aircraft that wasn’t so “hot”?

  2. Even more interestingly, based on data coming from satellites, the aircraft could have taken two different routes: a northernwestern one, towards Pakistan/China, and a western one towards the Indian Ocean

    The two satellite arcs are not “routes” that the plane would be following like a path. They represent an arc of possible points that MH370 could have been located at the time it sent the final “ping” at 8:11.

  3. David, I came to that conclusion today and posted on my own Facebook account and now just saw this post. I agree that the reason 370 was radar imaged at those two way points was so he could shadow an airliner headed north. They would have turned off collision avoidance and lights, flown several thousand below or likely above the lead aircraft’s altitude and then just trailed it to the next destination and kept on.

  4. Can someone please explain why most people seem to be assuming the plane flew north and/or that it landed? The evidence so far points most likely to premeditated suicide by a pilot who landed ‘softly’ on the surface of the water such that minimal debris broke off – essentially the majority of the airframe sank 8km beneath the Indian Ocean waves in one single piece. (the passengers would have been killed by cabin depressurization – which the pilot controls) No way anyone would find the plane for hundreds of years.
    The only reason I can think of why people assume the opposite is that: a) people want to find the plane; so their minds subconsciously choose the easy-to-find option; and/or b) it makes for a more interesting story?

    • I think you’re about right when it comes to people’s motivations — it’s a choice between a sad ending that’s difficult to understand and an ongoing thriller plot that may yet all be made clear.

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