The possibility that Malaysia Air Flight 370 was hijacked has heartened the relatives of passengers who are holding out hope that the missing plane landed in some remote location, perhaps a tropical island.
“My gut feeling is that it landed. I still feel his spirit. I don’t feel he is dead,” said Sarah Bajc, a 48-year-old American teacher living in Beijing whose partner, Philip Wood, a 50-year-old IBM executive, was a passenger on the flight.
A former technology executive, Bajc has been one of the most proactive of the family members, setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts encouraging people to keep looking for the plane. (“The glimmer of hope has become a definable ray. Hostages are far more valuable alive,” she wrote on the Facebook page “Finding Philip Wood.”)
The Malaysian government said on Sunday that it was searching over a wide swath of Asia for the Boeing 777 and the 239 people it carried. Satellite intelligence has suggested two possible routes — one to the northwest with possible destinations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam or Thailand, and another to the south over the Indian Ocean between Indonesia and Australia.
“We are looking at large tracts of land. We are crossing 11 countries and as well as deep and remote oceans,” said Malaysia’s acting transportation minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, said Sunday at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The flight departed Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:20 a.m. March 8 and disappeared from civilian radar within 50 minutes. However, Inmarsat satellites picked up tracking information suggesting it remained in flight until at least 8:11 a.m.
Aviation geeks using airport data from X-Plane, a flight simulator website, have identified more than 600 runways within range of the nearly 3,000 miles that the plane could have traveled from Kuala Lumpur.
The flight carried 227 passengers, 159 of them Chinese citizens. On Chinese websites, many people voiced hope that the plane and its passengers might be found unharmed.
“It is the first time it is good news that a plane was hijacked,” wrote one microblogger on the popular Sina Weibo site.
“There’s still hope for my daughter and her husband to be alive,” the parents of one young woman told the Beijing News.
The problem with the hijacking theory is that no group has come forward to take credit for the airplane’s disappearance or to make demands.
“That makes it very difficult for us to verify if it is a hijacking or a terrorist act,” said Hishamuddin.
Malaysian officials said they are not yet classifying the incident as hijacking and are considering a suicide mission by one of the passengers or crew. The pilot and co-pilot are high on the list of potential suspects, because of the expertise required to divert the plane.
At Sunday’s news conference, Malaysian officials said police had searched the home of 53-year-old pilot Zaharie Adman Shah and removed a flight simulator he kept at home. The co-pilot, Farq Ab Hamid, 27, is also under investigation, as are potentially all of the passengers.
Whoever commandeered Malaysia Air 370 took extraordinary evasive measures. That person switched off the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and transponder soon after takeover and made a sharp westward turn during a 10-minute leg of the flight between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace, where there is little primary radar coverage. As the flight zigzagged off course, it also rose to 45,000 feet, well above the approved altitude for a Boeing 777, possibly to ensure that passengers could not use their cellphones or to incapacitate them by causing a shortage of oxygen, experts say.
In the week since the plane disappeared, Bajc has transformed herself into an amateur sleuth, mulling over nuggets of information she has gleaned from the Internet that give credence to the hijacking theory.
“I am making the assumption at this point that the hostages are going to be leveraged,” said Bajc, who said she also believes Wood would be a particularly valuable hostage because he is the only U.S. citizen, other than two toddlers, among the passengers.
“This was clearly an orchestrated effort to take the plane. Why would anybody go to hide themselves if they were going to crash the plane into the water or commit suicide?” Bajc said in an interview in her living room stacked with moving cartons in preparation for a move to Kuala Lumpur.
The couple, both divorced, met in 2011 in a bar called Nashville in Beijing and moved in together soon afterward, along with Bajc’s teenage son. They both loved scuba diving, the beach, yoga and travel and had grown children close in age. They made an attractive couple — she with long, reddish-blond hair and he with a close-cropped hair, beard and mustache, a twinkling grin.
This year, they were in the process of moving on to Malaysia. They both had found new jobs in Kuala Lumpur – he still with IBM and she with a school – and had just leased an apartment they loved on a tree-lined street within walking distance of both their jobs.
“Everything was coming together. It was so easy,” said Bajc.
The couple last spoke on Friday evening March 7th, as Wood was getting ready to leave for the Kuala Lumpur airport for the red-eye flight back to Beijing. She had sent a car to pick him up at Beijing International Airport at 7.30 a.m.
Shortly before 8 a.m., the driver telephoned her to say that the flight hadn’t arrived and that there was no information on the arrival board indicating a delay.
Bajc was a little anxious, but only because movers were coming to pick up the cartons in the morning and needed Wood’s passport to complete the paperwork.
“Have you deplaned yet?” she texted him.
When she didn’t hear back, she telephoned his Malaysian cellphone and his Beijing cellphone. The former went directly to voice mail and the latter gave a message saying the user had the power off.
Still surfing the Internet, she saw an alert about 8.30 a.m. saying that the plane was “missing.”
At 9 a.m., the doorbell rang. It was the movers with their cartons and bubble paper. Bajc had to tell them, “I guess we’re not moving today.”