“I’m sure: MH370 escaped in the shadow of another plane” retired Air Force Colonel says

A retired trained radar navigator and tactics officer is sure: the MH370 flight escaped detection trailing another plane met somewhere over the Strait of Malacca.

There’s an old adage “hide in plain sight,” says Ed Pernotto, a reader of The Aviationist who is a retired AF Reserve Colonel, flew B-52Gs, FB-111s, and HC-130s from Okinawa and has flown with armed forces of Malaysia and Thailand.

As we mentioned a few days back, shadowing another plane at cruising altitude along one of the airways usually used by aircraft flying from Asia to Europe was one of the few ways the Malaysia Airlines MH370 could escape detection by ground radar.

The former radar navigator instructor and tactics officer backs this theory.

“When you fly over water or from point to point, pilots are frequently directed to change frequencies, told to turn, climb, descend, you name it. This is all “in the clear” and not privileged communications, anyone with the right radio on the right frequency would hear it. So, this pilot has planned this out to the nth degree and as he’s coming back across the Malay peninsula, he’s looking to fall in behind another airliner and shadow that airplanes flight path.”

The scenario Pernotto describes may sound unlikely (as many others) but not impossible.

By maintaining the so-called “listening watch” on the proper radio frequencies (while all the transmitting devices were silenced), MH370 pilot in command (co-pilot? hijacker?) “could simply have slipped in behind a northbound airliner and flown slightly higher and behind by a mile or two matching the speed and not exceeding the airliner in front of them.”

For those wondering: no, TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) would not trigger any alert, since it is based on transponder data and MH370 had switched it off.

“They would hear the ATC controller tell them what frequency to change to and match the flight. Now, to a ground radar controller, it would appear as one or two “blips” depending on how close they were. In fact, “ghost images” are VERY common for radar operators. A ghost image is when 1 airplane creates two or more blips because of latency of radars as they “paint” the airplane. This is how they could fool the radar operators then and now, they are hiding in the radar return of another airplane. When they get close to the field, the slip off unnoticed in the middle of China, pull the throttles back, and make a very quiet approach and landing at their destination,” Pernotto explains.

Even if it would be a really difficult maneuver, made visually, at night without radar help and with very few hints to properly estimate reciprocal speeds, altitudes etc, it would not be impossible, at least on paper.

Someone has studied times and routes and suggested Singapore SIA68 flight might be a good candidate to provide MH370 proper masking.
However, I believe that it would be extremely difficult to catch up with another plane, not only ahead of MH370 by several miles but also at higher altitude: the distance required to intercept it would be quite large (thus exposing the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 to detection by some air defense radar guarding some nearby airspaces).

I think that waiting for a plane some minutes flight time behind would be easier: MH370 would just need to fly a bit slower for some minutes until reached by another plane. Some readers pointed out the presence of a KLM flight some 20 – 25 minutes behind the Malaysian 777 at the time of the last recorded radar return over the Strait of Malacca.

Obviously, neither such a maneuver would be too easy as “seeing” the KLM flight approaching from behind would be quite difficult.

Image credit: AFP

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

 

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About David Cenciotti 4467 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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.

6 Comments

  1. “Obviously, neither such a maneuver would be too easy as “seeing” the KLM flight approaching from behind would be quite difficult.”
    MH370 would see it in their TCAS.

  2. If I had to stipulate the fate of the flight. I would look once again to the iranian connection, I would ever suggest it has landed there as a bargaining tool to be used against the west to keep their atomic weapons development going, using the passengers and crew as human shields.

  3. There is one additional detail that emerged today:
    people from the Maldives Islands pretend to have seen the plane (see here: http://metro.co.uk/2014/03/18/flight-mh370-residents-on-remote-island-in-maldives-saw-jet-matching-missing-malaysia-airlines-planes-description-4640688/ ). It is village of Kuda Huvadhoo (http://goo.gl/maps/Mj10y), and it is located quite exactly on an air route (approx. GPS N2°41.18′ E72°53.36′ here: http://skyvector.com/?ll=2.5874989385843676,73.12005615580281&chart=304&zoom=2&plan=G.2.6807840443920647,72.90032959329974 )

    If the sighting of the plane there is true, than it means it was travelling in the direction of the gulf of persia, and probably to Iran? (where it could reach that 40° circle for the IMMARSAT satellite pinging.)

    But of course, it could be that the people from the Maldives saw another plane (i don’t know how often there are planes there and how high they fly! But if there is an air route marked on the skyvector over that atoll, it should be possible to see more often planes there…)

    ***
    By the way, the same theory of shadowing a plane (as in your article), was described in detail, including air traffic maps, etc, by K. Ledgerwood here: http://mh370shadow.com/post/79838944823/did-malaysian-airlines-370-disappear-using-sia68-sq68

  4. I would have expected something better than tin foil hat whargarbl from this site

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