The Enduring Mystery of MH370

The Disappearing Act, by Florence de Changy

Le Monde journalist Florence de Changy, who was once based in Malaysia, has spent years researching the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The anniversary just passed — the plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared seven years ago on March 8, 2014 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Since then, this mystery has been an all-consuming one, the kind of rabbit-hole story that loops in everyone from garden-variety conspiracy theorists who see government machinations at play everywhere to, well, Courtney Love, who inevitably is cited in any story emphasizing the public’s obsession with information around the missing commercial airliner.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as de Changy reminds us, so none of this should be surprising. In this day and age, for a Boeing 777 to completely disappear is unheard of, borderline impossible. Something big went wrong, and even with bits of debris finally washing up – the flaperon that taught us all what a flaperon was when it appeared on Reunion Island in 2015, and pieces starting to appear the next year in Mauritius, Tanzania, and elsewhere in Africa – we still don’t have definitive answers. We barely have credible speculation, as it’s possible to easily poke holes in just about any theory, which she brilliantly goes on to do. (Bad news: she explains that even if the black box is found it won’t make much of a dent in solving this mystery. It only contains the last two hours of cockpit noise, and de Changy makes the point that “it is not guaranteed at all that any revelations will come from the cockpit in that time period.” Drat.)

She first published a book about her intensive research into the case in French in 2016 but continued researching, interviewing, and traveling to follow leads. The extent of her efforts is impossible to understate. I was often in awe. The Disappearing Act is so detailed, and follows every single thread to its source. De Changy researches a theory until it falls apart, picks up whatever pieces remain and on to the next possibility. It can be exhausting to read since there are a lot of technicalities involved, so I can’t imagine what it was like to research and write. She covers Malaysian culture and politics – of necessity including corruption – geopolitics, how other plane crashes have been handled, and any bits of culture or context necessary to understand what’s known about what happened and explain her ideas. It is thorough.

So with that in mind, now I, a completely unqualified, zero-research-doing (aside from a very educational episode of National Geographic’s Drain the Oceans) person with an internet connection will give my opinion on it.

In They All Love Jack, Bruce Robinson noted, “There are two theories of history, the ‘cock-up’ and the ‘conspiracy’. This was both. It was a conspiracy that cocked up.” De Changy comes to the same conclusions of what befell MH370. Essentially, there was something or someone (but most likely a something) on board the flight that couldn’t be allowed to reach China. This is where the US government, longtime masters of both meddling in business they shouldn’t and cocking it up while they’re at it, comes in.

I’m not completely convinced, although I think the truth is somewhere within all of this. She makes a good case for her theory but it relies on 1) a lot of anecdotes being true that could just be people flapping their gums who don’t know what they’re talking about, as people tend to be very good at doing, and 2) a lot of people, in multiple countries and governments, including favorite conspiracy-staple Barack Obama being able to keep a whopping big secret, as people tend to be not so good at doing. (If she’s right it goes all the way to the TOP, much as I loathe any theory involving Obama because it gives air to all the extra-crazy bullshit racist ones; more on which later.)

I think she was a bit hasty in her total dismissal of pilot responsibility, mainly because if you apply Occam’s razor, which she mentions at one point, that would seem the option with the least amount of assumptions. I also wasn’t convinced by her evidence that the pilot was such an outstanding person – not convinced that he wasn’t either, but that’s the point. It’s like what Gavin de Becker says in The Gift of Fear: basically no one knew anything relevant. But she makes a good argument against blaming someone who can’t defend themselves, and there’s precedent for that being an easy out. (Aside: she absolutely lays into this Atlantic article which squarely blames pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and there is nothing I love more than an expert slapfight. Although, again, Occam’s razor: what William Langewiesche explains there seems more within the realm of the possible to me.)

I did have trouble following every explanation, they can be almost too granular and at times too technical, other times they just feel convoluted – like one explaining why the information about the pilot’s home simulator, which he allegedly used to chart this destination-less course into the Indian Ocean, was wrong. There’s information overload in general, and sometimes math was involved (I’m gone) but that glut of information can make it tough to follow or fully grasp each point. When it gets back on track it’s endlessly compelling though.

As for going too deep into nutball conspiracy territory, which I feared it might do, it mostly avoids that by how much data she can throw behind any theory. She also firmly establishes herself on the side of truth, like when clarifying for international readers what Fox News is: “an American television network that was a close rival of Russia Today in terms of objectivity.” What a burn that Fox viewers probably wouldn’t even get!

Which brings me to one last very unfortunate thing I have to note: she references Orly Taitz, who filed a FOIA with the NSA for documents about MH370, and calls her a “celebrity lawyer.” That’s an awfully nice way of saying “racist birther conspiracy theorist,” apparently. Never, ever use Orly Taitz in any way to support any argument! It torpedoes your credibility immediately. There’s no other reference to her, but why even mention her in the first place when the only association is such a terrible one?

(And god, Orly Taitz would be all over this if she knew Obama was potentially even the slightest, peripherally little bit involved – de Changy only alleges that he knew what happened to the plane in a government intervention that went awry and allowed the coverup/conspiracy of silence around it to take place. But Orly will turn that into Obama crouched on the Chinese border shooting the plane down himself with his Connecticut vampire eye-lasers, I suppose, and then suggest we dig up his dead father again.)

Deeply compelling book about a Gordian knot of a mystery, where, if the author is to be believed, even established facts and narratives aren’t what they seem. Basically nothing you think you know about this is definitively proven true — down to the debris. It’s eerie, and extremely sad ultimately, because de Changy also does a great service by including interviews and information from the families and friends of the 239 who were on board, who live not only with the dreadful lack of closure, but with the infamy, wild speculation, and blame-throwing that surrounds it. If she’s right and a lot of people know what happened, I hope that someone will eventually be moved to speak on it.

The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370
by Florence de Changy
published February 4, 2021 by Mudlark (UK, but you can buy Kindle/ePub and it’s out May 18 in the US!)

23 thoughts on “The Enduring Mystery of MH370

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  1. You warmed my heart when you referenced Gavin de Becker! That man changed my life by simply declaring that women should stop dismissing their instincts. But I digress😏

    I’m fascinated by the disappearance of this plane and it will always bother me. Despite the author not being able to reach a definitive conclusion, I’m still interested in reading what she’s uncovering. Your analysis is SO good (I love how conversational you get) and some parts had me cracking up.

    I’ve got to get my hands on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t The Gift of Fear the greatest? I learned a ton from it and I think about points from it all the time. It changed so much of my behavior, truly. And I loved that point he made about how useless it is when neighbors, family, coworkers, etc all say someone was such a great guy, we never would’ve imagined he was capable of this, just so nice and normal, whatever. It’s useless and perpetuates all the wrong narratives or shifts blame to places it shouldn’t be. She roundly dismisses the pilot responsibility option, and makes some good points for it because of oddities in the satellite data and some other things, but still. I feel like there were openings where something else could’ve been true for each strange happening rather than the thing she went with, if that makes sense?

      She does come to a fairly definitive explanation of what she believes happened – almost too detailed, really, because it starts to feel too unbelievable to me, but then again she’s the one who’s poured years of research into this and methodically eliminated every other option, so…it could be? I’m just suspicious of anything that involves too many people in too many places keeping a secret because that rarely works. But this book keeps you going back and forth, and it’s utterly fascinating even if I still have doubts.

      I’m glad I could make you laugh – I have to keep my sense of humor when any kind of conspiracy theory is involved 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! Good to know this book isn’t a definitive answer to close the case, but it does sound like a fascinating read for those of us simply hooked on and haunted by the mystery, always wanting just a little more data. That there’s so much thorough research behind this is definitely appealing, and I am eager to crack into it myself- it sounds well worth the read, though I sincerely hope we’ll get another book someday with the explanation so many have been waiting for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!! Yes, you put it very well – it’s perfect if you want more data. And actually she makes a good point of how quick the media can be to report anything and everything around this story without always having enough facts to back it up, and she debunks so many of the better known narratives that it’s just crazy. I think you’d really like this one!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent review! You know I’d love a story about a French reporter on the trail of plane crash debris surfacing in the Reunion Islands. It sounds like she might include far too much information, however, to hold my attention. In my experience, when theories need to be bolstered by scads of detailed data, they lose credibility.

    I appreciate your warning about Orly Taitz (a name I didn’t know) and laughed out loud at your characterization of where the Right might take the claim that Obama was involved. I definitely hold to the Occam’s Rasor principle and conspiracies involving a disparate cast of characters are largely implausible.

    It’s amazing, however, what dogged journalists manage to track down. Hopefully, people within the CIA are also considering the same angles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right – in some ways I really appreciated it, because she seemed able to plug any hole with data, but on the other hand some of it may just be totally irrelevant depending on what scenarios actually matter. It’s a bit of overkill in spots and it does test your attention here and there.

      There was so much going on in this one that I didn’t even touch on France’s role in all of this, but you might find it really interesting for that aspect as well!

      I only knew of Orly Taitz from her visibility during the birther bullshit and I kind of couldn’t believe her name was even allowed in the book. It wasn’t even all that significant of a point to make so was very odd, because as I said she just torpedoes credibility. Glad I could make you laugh though! It’s laugh to keep from crying with some of these types…

      I feel like this journalist did track down a lot of important stuff, and her theory definitely explains so many of the otherwise inexplicable oddities, but yeah, I’m immediately skeptical if it requires so many people to stay quiet about it. Just so unlikely!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. i had to laugh at your comment about being a completely unqualified person yet trying to do justice to this highly detailed book. You certainly made a good job of it. It’s clearly a book based on extensive research but probably too detailed for my taste.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just felt so bad criticizing or saying “I disagree with your conclusion” when I have no evidence compared to her years of intense research! 😂 and thank you so much! It’s definitely not one if you’re not looking for this kind of super-deep dive, I did find the detail could make it hard to concentrate on at times.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved this review so much. Witty, incisive and logical. In fact too logical and sensible for the internet, you are in danger of being banned! So refreshing to read in these days of non-fact based generalised witterings. Also loved ‘ expert slapfight ‘ not sure if you invented that phrase but it’s awesome. Don’t think I can cope with the book but will read the linked newspaper article with great interest. Also had never heard of Orly Taitz (though did of course hear about the Obama birthed thing). I said the name to myself in an Australian accent and it comes out as “Oily Tits”. Not proud of myself at all, very ashamed but now it’s stuck in my head..this is why I am not allowed to play with the grown ups.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! Glad you enjoyed it! I feel like we have to be as sensible as possible with this topic since it runs the risk of veering entirely into crazy conspiracy territory. I’m not sure where expert slapfight came from, honestly 😂 I just like the image of people very set in their convictions and each with reams of specialist data to back them angrily slapping at each other over their different conclusions. They just get so passionate about it, and this author was quite irritated over the groups claiming the pilot was responsible. She took like a whole chapter to set out all the reasons she thinks it’s wrong!

      Unfortunately I already knew of Orly Taitz (your name interpretation is highly preferable though) but only from Stephen Colbert’s old show. She’s just an idiot and was part of the whole embarrassing and racist birther fiasco. Why anyone would think it’s ok to use any reference to her at all is beyond me!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought so too. His argument just made more sense to me and didn’t require as many mental leaps. You should try the book though, I think you’d find it interesting and would be curious to hear your thoughts on this mess!!

      Liked by 1 person

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