Seven years after Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared into the night, never to be seen again, questions remain about what happened to the 239 passengers and crew.
Hong Kong-based Florence de Changy is an award winning correspondent for Le Monde and believes it's an insult to pretend a Boeing 777 could vanish without a trace.
She pieces together evidence which has been dismissed, denied, or erased in her new book, The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370.
De Changy joined Afternoons to share her shocking new theory about what happened to the plane and the people on board, calling it the biggest cover up in recent times.
She heard the news about the disappearance while she was on holiday in Italy and wasn’t planning on covering it until the Malaysian Prime Minister said it was a deliberate act.
“That’s when I and Le Monde decided it needed to be covered more than just a normal plane crash which usually doesn’t require a lot of coverage. By that time, I was at home in Hong Kong and was sent to Kuala Lumpur. That’s how my long story with that plane started – just like a normal assignment.”
It’s not an easy time to be a conspiracy theorist and with theories abounding about what happened in the crash, de Changy has had the accusation levelled at her on social media platforms, but she’s adamant that authorities have lied about what happened to MH370.
“It is actually called a conspiracy. People have to go back to what that means, and it’s been wrongly used in a way.”
She says that there have been many outlandish theories about what happened to the plane, but some of them have provided clues which get her near the truth.
“In some ways, the official narrative is the most outlandish of them all because there’s strictly nothing tangible to back the official narrative.”
The narrative is that, after 40 minutes of flight – when the plane disappeared from radar in Malaysia and Vietnam – it made an incredible U-turn (not feasible by a 777, she adds). Then the plane turned off its transponder, flew over Malaysia, over an Australian military base. Then, it went up the Malacca Strait, rounded around Sumatra where it was supposedly last seen on radar and the pilot sent a message via an obsolete British code, which has never been independently verified.
The most unbelievable part of the official narrative, de Changy says, is the fact that no debris from the plane was ever found.
In the years since, bits and pieces of debris have cropped up and been closely examined to see if they could be part of MH370. One of them, a large part found off the coast of French Africa, baffled researchers.
“After 50 days, everything was supposed to have sunk. Now, we are 500 days later, and suddenly something which should have sunk a long time ago managed to float and go 4000km to be there. So, the discovery of this piece in the first place was completely extraordinary.
“The next problem is that this part has lost its plate. Plane parts, a bit like what you have on a car, have an identification plate. This is either riveted or glued with a special mastic which is supposed to resist all kinds of pressure, altitude, change of temperature etc. There’s no way that being in the seawater for 15 or 16 months would have taken this plate off, so this is a major red flag.”
She says the only other times in civil aviation where a plate has been removed is when a plane is being deliberately dismantled.
“So, that’s very interesting. You find a part without its plate, you should think ‘problem.’ Then French investigators decided to look at the small numbers in the sub-part of this.”
Investigators said one of the numbers matched but de Changy, who’s had access to the confidential link, says the link is tenuous.
“I’ve also seen other things in this file that shows that when they float the part, it floats in a way that is not consistent with the way the barnacles on it grew. All of this makes you think, what’s going on?”
What de Changy has found, looking at the communications between air traffic control, is that MH370 continued its course towards Vietnam, which is inconsistent with the U-turn. She also has a ‘high-level’ source who told her two US military AWACS planes were on-site.
“These are like eyes in the sky, they’re a floating radar station in a way, and they have an enormous perimeter of surveillance. I always thought that was very strange and didn’t know what to do with this information.”
It was years later that she talked to a former US pilot who told her that AWACS have phenomenal radar jamming capacity.
“That’s when I had a bit of an epiphany. I thought, maybe, these two AWACS I was told about from a top source, maybe they jammed the plane. I thought, what if, when the plane ‘disappeared’ it was actually jammed.
“What I found was a lot of evidence very consistent with that; the fact that it comes off air traffic controller screens in a very progressive way, which is completely inconsistent with turning the transponder off and quite a few other things.”
Part of the official record, which de Changy says is very interesting, is that at 2.25am, around an hour after it had disappeared from screens, the plane’s communication goes live again.
“This is something I could not explain and I could not understand, but then I realised that if the SATCOM [communication via satellite] reconnects, it means that the plane is not jammed anymore.”
At the moment the SATCOM reconnects, de Changy says, the plane is approaching Chinese airspace.
“If my initial scenario is correct, the plane is being jammed for some kind of operation by two US AWACS, then when it gets close to Chinese airspace, there is no way they can continue to be there because the Chinese air traffic controller and military would not let it come in their airspace. Obviously, the AWACS have to back off, and the plane goes live again.”
As for why the US military would be tailing and jamming MH370, de Changy says she received a tip a long time ago that the reason was inside the plane. Sources she spoke to said passengers and small cargo would be easily moved via jets, so – if it was cargo – it was something large and heavy.
What she found was 4.5 tonnes of mangosteens, an exotic fruit, were listed as cargo on the flight – but that the fruit was out of season and was an unusual trade between Malaysia and China.
“But, I found out that all the MH370 flights before, and all the MH370 flights after, were all supposed to import fresh mangosteens. So I thought, OK this is a codename. It happens that Kuala Lumpur international airport is a hub of illegal trade between Africa and China.”
She figured it could have been ivory or something else, but that wasn’t enough reason for the plane to go astray. However, she found another piece of cargo tagged ‘Motorola’ which was 2.5 tonnes of equipment described as walkie talkies and battery chargers.
“Contrary to the description, this cargo was so big that it could not be scanned. It could not be scanned in Penang, and it could not be scanned in Kuala Lumpur.”
De Changy says she’s spoken to multiple people in civil aviation who’ve told her it’s a big no-no to carry cargo that can’t be scanned, especially in a plane with passengers.
“This is an enormous red-flag, this cargo. Then, even better, it’s written in the official report that this very same cargo was brought to Kuala Lumpur international airport under escort… it’s very extraordinary.”
Whether MH370 was shot down by the US, de Changy won’t say. But at 2.43am, a mayday call went out from MH370, later published on Chinese and Taiwanese websites and even retweeted by US Sectary of State John Kerry – though no trace of it remains on the internet – requesting an emergency landing and saying the cabin was breaking apart.
“This is what you say when you’ve been hit by a missile. This is what it means, basically.”