My son Henry, who has been an airline geek since he was a little boy, thinks the 777 airliner which has been missing since March 8th is on the ground somewhere in China or central Asia.
He says whoever took it wanted the $205.5-$260.5 million airplane (or $34.5-$54 million on the used market) for another purpose, and it is probably being repainted for future use to impersonate the company colors of one of the 52 airlines which fly this particular type of aircraft in its several variants.
Emirates operates the largest 777 fleet with 87 aircraft; Singapore Airlines operates the second-biggest fleet with 66 aircraft; Air France has 58 777s; United Airlines has 52. As of August 2013, 1,467 Boeing 777s, of all variants, were ordered, and 1,127 were delivered. There’s a lot of protective cover in that forest.
If the airplane was invisible to tracking when it disappeared, it could be invisible to tracking until just before it reappears on who-knows-what mission… but probably not benign.
With enough fuel to reach Beijing, it could have flown as far as central Asia. The fact that the latest “ping” from the jet’s satellite communication system was picked up 7 hours after the plane’s transponder was switched off suggests that the plane could have flown about 2,000 miles from its last known position (shown with the black airplane symbol below), or farther if it was fueled to capacity (Henry notes that the fueling manifest has not been released).
WNYC put together this map of all the runways on which the 777 could have landed that are within the plane’s estimated range at its last point of contact. Henry says that these runways are at least 5,000 feet long, which is what is required for a 777 to land. If the goal is for the plane to take off again, it would need about 9,000 feet—but I don’t know how many of these dots meet that requirement.
It’s also possible that the jet could have landed in a desert, or anywhere else with 9,000 feet of straight, flat ground that could be used as a runway. You could put the aircraft down on a highway. A runway wouldn’t even necessarily have to be paved; hard-packed dirt would be good enough.
Jeff Wise at Slate argues persuasively that the plane might have been stolen and and reached a destination in central Asia. This seems much more logical than taking a southern route. It seems unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of seizing, hiding, and flying the jet for 7 hours if the goal was merely to kill everyone on board and commit suicide by crashing it into the ocean. If mere transportation was the goal, we might have already gotten some indication of what happened to the plane and crew.
If the goal was to use the passengers as hostages to demand something, it also seems likely that the initial demands would have been heard by now, eleven days into the mystery.
Some have said that the next mission for the plane might be an attack of some sort. If the plane has indeed been flown somewhere undetected that was ready to receive it, this speculation seems reasonable.
Henry said that he saw some rumors on the Internet that the airplane’s cargo may have included gold (the cargo manifest, as well, has not been released). If this were the case, and with China buying up most of the world’s bullion, he speculates that the plane could be on the ground in China, and that it may be harbinger that the world has a new, gold-backed reserve currency in its future.
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