As the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 passes the 100-day mark, why so little attention to likely causes? After all, it is not every day that a plane packed with passengers just disappears from the face of the world in mid-flight. An early suggestion by some Malaysian media that there had been deliberate suicide decision by a pilot anxious to protest political developments in his home country seems to have been ignored. But it is hard to think of any other possible explanation.
Malaysia's political situation is not pretty. The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has held power continuously for 56 years. Anwar Ibrahim, the popular and competent former deputy prime minister, was its only real rival. To continue their grip on power the UMNO bosses had shown repeatedly they were willing to resort to anything to keep him out of office.
In 1998 Anwar was hit with charges of corruption and sodomy. After six years in jail on the dubious corruption charge - much in solitary confinement - he was then arraigned on the sodomy charge. Here he was acquitted. But on 7 March, the day flight MH370 vanished, a Kuala Lumpur court decided to overturn this acquittal so he could be sent back to jail for a further five years. That decision coincided with preparations for an election which could well have seen Anwar's Peoples Justice Party begin to seriously challenge UMNO.
At this stage enter Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the ill-fated MH370 flight. Shah was known to be an ardent Anwar supporter, and possibly a distant relative also. It is also known that late on the afternoon of 7 March he attended the Kuala Lumpur court hearing. Just seven hours later he was at the controls of flight MH370, destination Beijing.
To the Malaysian commentators at the time this sequence of events was significant. But their suggestions that Shah crashed the plane on purpose to draw attention to the atrocious way Anwar had been treated were seen as politically dangerous, and in any case were soon drowned out by the rush of other theories – hijackers, equipment malfunction, and so on. Now, however, it seems clear that there were no hijackers and there was no malfunction - that Shah remained in full control of the plane. Maybe we have no choice but to go back and look at those earlier suggestions, particularly since they seem confirmed by many other details.
Take the area where the plane disappeared - the remote and deep southern Indian ocean. If a pilot bent on a suicide protest had wanted to cause maximum inconvenience to his searchers he could not have chosen a better location. A deliberate pancake landing there with the plane sinking before coming apart would also explain the lack of debris - yet another problem for the searchers. The elaborate moves by the pilot to evade radar also suggest deliberate intentions.
Shah may have left a note explaining his motives, though that would almost certainly have been confiscated during the search of his house by authorities immediately after the plane's disappearance. It is more likely that his reported in-flight telephone calls were to make sure the authorities realised what he was about, which would explain the haste to have his house searched.
It would also explain the curiously evasive way the authorities have handled the whole affair, even allowing for Malaysia's laid-back attitudes. From the start they would have known they had a problem. If it came out that Shah had acted in protest against Anwar's persecution they would be in political trouble. If it came out the crash was deliberate, they would have been in deep financial trouble from victim compensation claims. In this situation the only course open to them was obfuscation. To divert attention and delay search and rescue efforts they went out of their way to focus on an area to the east of the Malaysian Peninsula as the likely crash site, even though at an early stage they knew radar had located the plane flying to the west of the peninsula.
Meanwhile the expensive search for the plane continues. While our aviation authorities have been warning us constantly about the danger of hijackers, it seems they have overlooked a far greater danger - pilot psychology. We know of at least one precedent – the deliberate 1982 dumping of Japan Airlines Flight 350 into the waters near Haneda airport by a mentally disturbed pilot. There could be others.
Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat, Chinese-speaking correspondent and university president resident in Japan. He can be found at www.gregoryclark.net. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of IBTimes UK.