Author gives the MH370 story the Hilary Mantel treatment

There are other accounts of what happened to the disappeared Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, but Capt Verne Pugiev’s just-published book is about as close as you can get.

Pugiev, a nom de plume, is quite obviously the experienced Boeing 777 captain he claims to be, which is a good start if the truth about this “mystery” is what you seek.

The thing that intrigues me about this book is the way he has chosen to describe what happened. Just as the much-lauded writer Hilary Mantel, in her trilogy about King Henry VIII’s life and times, chose to write history in the form of a novel so that she could join all the recorded historic dots, bringing humanity to old academic narratives about the Tudor court, so Pugiev has taken the facts we know about MH370 and woven them into a chilling account of what – more or less certainly – happened.

He could, of course, have written a technical report as if he were an accident investigator, but the form would not have allowed him to fill in between the dots, and it would have been a dry-as-dust read. Meanwhile, as the story of the doomed aircraft recedes further into history, Pugiev clearly wants to fire up readers’ imaginations to keep public curiosity alive.

His book, rather predictably entitled “The Missing Plane: A Chilling Novel Based on the Real-Life Loss of Malaysia Airlines MH370”, is out in paperback.

The factual dots joined up in Pugiev’s story show the author to be a convinced follower of Capt Simon Hardy, a real 777 captain whose mathematical calculations and practical flight simulations of what happened to MH370 represent, in my opinion, the most accurate description of reality available. Back in 2016, Hardy was working with the Australian authorities who were leading the sea-bed search for the wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean.

Intriguingly, when the official search for the MH370 wreckage was abandoned for totally unconvincing reasons, Australia and its Malaysian and Chinese partners studiously avoided looking in Hardy’s predicted MH370 resting place.

Anyway, Pugiev’s narrative takes you as close to what really happened as we can get until MH370s wreckage is finally located and recovered, as it will be for sure.

The only question is when.

MH370 search extended into August

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, coordinating the multinational search for flight MH370, the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, had planned to complete the mission this month.

But winter weather has slowed down the sea-bed search for the main aircraft wreckage.

The ATSB says: “It is now anticipated it may take until around August to complete the 120,000 square kilometres, but this will be influenced by weather conditions over the coming months, which may worsen. More than 105,000 square kilometres of the seafloor have been searched so far. In the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.”

The ATSB statement continues: “Consistent with the undertaking given by the Governments of Australia, Malaysia and the PRC in April last year, 120,000 square kilometres will be thoroughly searched. In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Governments have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area.”

The investigators have now examined half a dozen pieces of floating wreckage that washed up on beaches, mostly on the shores of islands in the western Indian Ocean or off south-eastern Africa. The have all been determined either to be definitely or almost certainly from the missing Malaysia 777. They include a flaperon, a wing flap section a flap track fairing, a part from a horizontal stabiliser, a piece of engine cowling, and a section of laminate material from the cabin trim of the aircraft.

So the aircraft is in the Indian Ocean, but if it is not found in the area where the sparse data the authorities have at their disposal suggest it should be, they have decided that the search will stop there.

La Réunion, that wing flap, and MH370

The wing flap that has drifted ashore in La Réunion on the western side of the Indian Ocean may well have come from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that flew the ill-fated flight MH370.

But if it really was a part of that aircraft, does it help the search for the main wreckage?

Unfortunately no. It certainly does not mean the wreckage is near La Réunion.

This flap section has been afloat since the aircraft hit the sea on 8 March 2014, a year and four months ago. It has drifted a long way in that time, and tracing it back to its possible origin using a model of the prevailing sea currents and winds would provide such a massive approximation that it would indicate a larger search area than the one the Australian government has already searched, and which it continues to search right now.

The Indian Ocean’s main sea current system flows anti-clockwise, so if the aircraft did indeed crash in the area off the west coast of Australia where the search is taking place, the flap – and possibly other parts – would have been carried north, then westerly, then southerly, which makes La Réunion a plausible location for it to wash up. So the find certainly does not invalidate the present calculations.

Does it tell us anything new about how the aircraft was lost?

Again, unfortunately no. The experts reckon the aircraft had nothing wrong with it, and that it crashed into the sea when it ran out of fuel.

That is because an aircraft that sets off for one destination, makes a U-turn and then flies successfully for hours in the wrong direction while it could be seen on radar, and probably many more hours when it could no longer be seen, had nothing structurally wrong with it.

The favourite explanation from all the major players in the industry is that the disappearance of MH370 was a deliberate act by someone in control of the aircraft. In the light of the Germanwings crash earlier this year, deliberately carried out by the unbalanced copilot, that explanation now has additional credibility with the public.

If the flap is indeed from MH370, the discovery finally lays to rest two theories: sadly but inevitably, those who lost relatives on the flight and were still hoping that the aircraft had safely landed in a remote place, will now be confronted with the reality that the aircraft broke up, probably on impact with the sea; and finally those conspiracy theorists who reckon the CIA hijacked it to Diego Garcia – or anywhere else – are going to have to search their imaginations for an alternative explanation.