Was Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Stolen? A Brief Criminological Inquiry

Obviously, nobody can be sure what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.  That does not mean, however, that some explanations are more likely to be true than others.

For example, it is exceedingly unlikely that the flight was “abducted” by a UFO.

Most everyone will agree that it is rational to rule that hypothesis out.

Criminologists do not just pluck a subjectively preferred hypothesis out of thin air and then ramble about it.

Rather, criminologists apply probabilistic/statistical reasoning to the analysis of empirical data.

A few sentences should suffice to give a sense of why, at present, the hypothesis that MH370 was stolen fits the available evidence the best.

Clearly, I am not going to argue that the theft hypothesis is certainly true, nor am I going to argue that it is the only hypothesis worth considering. 

I am simply going to offer good, empirically based reasons for holding that at present it offers the best explanation of what are taken to be facts. 

It is a criminological fact that hijackings happen far more often than the mid-air, instantaneous destruction of aircraft by either natural phenomena or onboard systems failure.

With regard to non-instantaneous destruction of aircraft (which almost certainly would involve a crash), there is at present no evidence of a crash, although of course that could change.

There is evidence that the plane veered off course before contact was lost.

That available evidence is obviously just as consistent with a hijacking as it is with a non-instantaneous crash (and note that if the plane veered off course, it is overwhelmingly likely that if the plane has been destroyed, it did not happen instantaneously). 

But, once again, hijackings occur far more often than plane crashes (taking into account that some crashes are produced by hijackings).

So at present there is no evidence that would justify displacing the statistically based conclusion that the plane was hijacked. 

Here is another criminological fact: hijacked planes do not typically crash (click here to get a sense of the evidence).

It follows from all of the above that it is quite reasonable to hold that Malaysian Airlines flight 360 was stolen.  Readers who would like a more detailed discussion can click here.

Update: This breaking report in the Wall Street Journal is consistent with Professor Kissner's reasoning:

U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines  Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.

Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from theBoeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program.

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof2010@hotmail.com.