The Sum of All Nightmares Comes True: Read This and Pray with Me That I’m Wrong by Mike Simpson

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, as I drove home, I gazed with skepticism at the long lines of people gassing up their cars. Among the rumors going around that day was that American oil and gasoline supplies would be cut off. That turned out, as I suspected, not to be true. My daughter called that night and asked if I thought she should leave the city where she lived. There was a the rumor going around that, since there was a nearby oil tank “farm,” it would be a high value target to those attacking our nation. While I had a real sense that nobody was coming to blow up those oil tanks, I also knew she’d feel more secure if she took her cat and dog and stayed with a friend that night. As it turned out, the rumors about the tank farm were also untrue.MikeI’m the guy who doesn’t buy into scams and rumors, even when our nation is under attack. Regarding 9-11, my intuition from the beginning was that those who conducted the attack had a fairly limited plan. They had no ability to take over the entire country or destroy all the potential “soft targets” in our land. They just wanted to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

At this moment, however — as a person who is always skeptical about alarms, rumors and conspiracy theories — I feel the need to echo a warning. I have a quite rational fear about what may have happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and what may happen to us as a result.

I am writing this blog on the afternoon of the Ides of March, 2014. At this writing the current supposition about MA 370 is that it ran out of fuel as it flew, fell into the Indian Ocean and sank. While it would mean 279 people died tragically, I really hope that scenario is true, because most of the alternatives possibilities are much worse. My fondest hope is that the concerns I’m unpacking here are completely unfounded.

Like so many others who have watched this unfolding mystery with curiosity, I pretty much decided several days ago that it wasn’t mechanical failure but human intervention that caused the flight to vanish. If you consider the manner of the jet’s disappearance, it clearly supports the idea that a plan was in place to make a plane go missing at a time and in a place where it’s absence would be difficult to detect and tracking it would be next to impossible: 1) flying long after dark, 2) shutting off communication devices systematically, 3) turning abruptly and flying into an area where there would be little civilian tracking available, 4) altering altitude several times—which would among other things make satellite tracking more difficult. Ultimately it seems quite possible the hijacker flew out across the vast, deep Indian Ocean to make it appear that it crashed there. If that was a ruse—the way everything else the hijacker did was a ruse—then it’s still working: a dozen navies are scouring the seas for a jet that I think probably never hit the water.

As I was trying to piece various possibilities together last night, I read a chilling comment at the end of a news article dealing with the flight’s change in altitude. The strange jump up to 45,000 feet, I learned, would make its fuel last longer and would make it more difficult for satellites to track. However the real reason for this dangerous change in altitude, according to the comment, would be to kill the passengers. Soaring to 45,000 feet and depressurizing the cabin would freeze and suffocate the passengers. Even if the famous buttercup airbags deployed, those in the cabin would have at most twenty minutes of air. Those in the cockpit would have substantially more air as well as protection from the frigid temperatures.

An eerie awareness descended on me as I began to put together some of the things I had heard (that had not been discredited). We know the plane did not come apart catastrophically. We also know that passengers these days are savvy enough to try to establish contact from endangered planes and also are more than willing to take on potential hijackers. Did no one on the plane have a satellite phone? In the days following the disappearance, passengers’ phones rang—indicating they were viable, but none were answered. Why no news from the passengers? Perhaps it’s because they suffocated swiftly at 45,000 feet. Once that occurred, any hijackers would not have to worry about being rushed or having to care for traumatized people.

Of course the old saying is, “a dead hostage is useless.” Wouldn’t it defeat the purposes of an air pirate to kill those he has kidnapped? Wouldn’t those potentially paying ransom want assurances that the passengers were alive and unharmed? Given the extensive ongoing search for the jet, wouldn’t kidnappers hasten to make contact with authorities and consummate a ransom deal before their whereabouts were discovered? Since the answer to all those questions is “yes,” then it seems logical to assume that this is not an act of air piracy.

If the hijackers didn’t want the passengers, what did they want? They wanted the plane.

Those who took MA 370 have demonstrated with awful clarity that they know how to fly it, how to manipulate all its systems, how to avoid radar detection and how to distract the foremost experts in commercial jet avionics. If the hijacker or hijackers are not at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, then it seems to me we must admit they have been two steps ahead of those pursuing them from the very beginning. In order to catch up, then, it seems to me we should ask where this journey ultimately might be leading.

Let’s start by asking why would they want the plane? My guess is they want to turn it into a single use weapon, one that can travel up to 7000 miles at 600 miles an hour and blend in with other aircraft (whose flight paths and travel times seem to be known to the hijacker). Only, what can you do with just one jet? Well, not far north of the area where the flight disappeared are a number of former Soviet republics and a couple other nations that possess nuclear weapons. I think it’s possible that this plane is being fitted with a nuclear device.

So, just for the sake of argument, if you were the sort of person who would hijack a jetliner and kill all the passengers aboard it, and if you had a nuclear bomb and high-flying way to deliver it, where would you detonate it? If you wanted to obliterate Israel, you could blow it up there. Or you could take out any major European capital. After 9-11 and its aftermath, however, I’m just paranoid enough to think that the United States might be the most tantalizing target of all.

Where in the US would you strike with a nuclear device? As 9-11 demonstrated, you can demolish the financial heart of the nation and the American economy pretty much keeps on percolating. So I find myself wondering if those with that sort of weapon might be more likely to strike the nation’s capital. A single nuclear weapon detonated at the worst possible moment has the potential to decimate or eliminate the entire elected leadership of our nation—and like the passengers on MA 370—they might never see it coming. Additionally, an unforeseen nuclear strike on Washington could turn irreplaceable artifacts, documents and facilities to dust, contaminating the surrounding area and making it uninhabitable in the process.

I’ve left out the worst result of a nuclear strike on any major city: the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. And that brings me to the most ironic part of this nightmare scenario: there are at least a couple places in this world where our nation is hated because of drone strikes that allegedly have taken the lives of innocent civilians. I have to ask myself if those who might possess stolen a Boeing 777 and may have turned it into a flying atomic bomb might also consider the sudden death of innocent American citizens from the sky a sort of ironic turnabout.

Again, I would love to be wrong about all this supposition, though nothing yet has said to me that it isn’t entirely possible and quite plausible. As noted, if this scenario is transpiring, then those conducting it are ruthless, clever and competent. As said above, these folks, like the 9-11 attackers, just want to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

What do we have going for us in trying to ferret out and stop such an attack? Time, maybe. We know that it has taken terrorists a certain amount of time to ready and carry out their plans in the past. With so many people searching for the plane, however, one might assume the hijackers will act as swiftly as possible. Technology is also on the side of the civilized nations here. Avionic experts have a global grid of multiple varieties of surveillance and communication that might be tweaked and tasked with detecting this plane should it ever take to the air again. We also have civilization on our side. Much as we may detest certain other nations and their leaders, it’s quite clear that civilized human beings would cooperate in deterring an unprovoked nuclear attack.

In his book The Sum of All Fears, the late Tom Clancy wrote of an unprovoked nuclear attack as being the inspiration for his title. The thing is, that was just a fanciful story with no actual basis in fact. What’s worse than a make-believe story and worse than worrisome rumors, however, is a horrific nightmare scenario that might really occur—it’s like the sum of all our nightmares turning out to be true. I hope you’ll join me in praying that this awful dream never comes true, and that those entrusted with the safety of ours and other nations have been thinking about these possibilities as well.


Filed under history, Mike Simpson, musings

12 responses to “The Sum of All Nightmares Comes True: Read This and Pray with Me That I’m Wrong by Mike Simpson

  1. Adding to the mystery are the two people who were supposed to be on board but weren’t.

  2. I’d have to say your argument is scarily plausible. I hadn’t read the bit about flying so high, but that answers so many questions, it’s truly chilling.

  3. Perhaps, perhaps…and an even scarier thought. Perhaps we never find out what happened to that plane. No survivors or wreckage are ever found….ever.

  4. Scriblet

    This is terrifying because it’s so logical. I haven’t read much about the ongoing search and developments but what you have reported really makes me wonder. North America has fought wars on foreign soil for so long I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before wars are brought to us. The world is a very scary place right now; politics, wars, and volatile relationships take on a very different tone when you’re studying history versus you don’t know the outcome. If nothing else, this should be taken as a warning of the weaknesses in security measures. Hopefully it’s nothing more than an innocent tragedy.

  5. My thoughts have been moving along the same lines. I think part of it goes hand in hand with being a writer – asking what if, and imagining different scenarios. But I also think it’s a plausible theory and I do hope and pray you’re wrong.

  6. I can certainly see the plausibility in this theory; but then, I believe in several other conspiracy theories, too: that Roosevelt and Churchill knew of the planned Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ahead of time but conspired to allow it to take place so that Roosevelt would be free to declare war openly, without fear of political repercussions. I also believe that we couldn’t stopped the fall of the towers, but that it, too, was allowed to take place. I just haven’t figured out the entire why behind that.

    All in all, this missing aircraft and the possibilities you put forth, Mike, sound like a Die Hard movie: airliner hijacked and flown to a secret location in Cuba to be outfitted with a nuclear device and launched against Washington, D.C. But this is reality, and we may not have a cowboy in the name of Bruce Willis who will save us all with his last second theatrics.

    Yeah, in conclusion, I hope you’re wrong with the possibilities you imagined this month in your blog.

    • J. Conrad — it’s easy to figure out the why of it. For example, think of how different the world is post-towers. Before, we would have screamed at the “security” (loss of freedom) measures that we begged for afterward.

  7. I meant to write, in the first paragraph next to last sentence, “I also believe we COULD’VE stopped the fall of the towers …”

  8. Yikes, what a horrifying scenario. I read it through, considered it, and then — because it was frightening beyond words — promptly put it out of my mind, and intend to keep it out unless/until that’s no longer possible. I also agree with Chuck (or is it Chuck and Heidi?) — never finding out what happened is an unsettling thought, though not quite as unsettling as your scenario. It does make me consider NEVER flying again.

  9. I had the same thought, Mike. There not many uses for a triple 7 plane that don’t involve crazy.

  10. Some interesting theories here, Mike. I agree something suspicious happened to that plane. Prior to becoming a writer, I flew for the U.S. Navy for 14 years. In fact, I flew on the P-3C Orion, which is one of the aircraft types looking for the plane.

    One thing that keeps occurring to me is you have to be pretty savvy to disable all the electronic emissions from a plane (IFF, TAWS, transponders, GPS, radios, etc.). For example, aircraft have collision avoidance systems that keep aircraft from flying into each other. It’s why we we haven’t heard of aircraft flying into each other in a long time. Civilian versions of these systems are designed not to be tampered with. Look at the maintenance pings that came off the engines- it’s hard to completely silence an aircraft.

    One reason I support your theory something suspicious happened to the plane is because none of the emergency transponders deployed. If an aircraft pulls too many Gs (I don’t know what the G Force envelope is for 777s), a transponder should’ve deployed and began pinging on the international SAR frequency. A lot of these transponders are external to the cabin (again- I’m not totally familiar with the 777), and can’t be interfered with during flight.

    I don’t know if you blew cabin pressure above 10k feet if it wouldn’t send an automated alert. We need O2 above 10k if you are not in a pressurized cabin. I suspect there would be, but I’m not sure about the 777.

    Hiding a 777 is really a feat. You need a runway at least a mile long. It would also have to be repainted, BUNO changed, etc. In 2003, there was an aircraft missing in Africa that was periodically seen. It had been repainted, renumbered, etc., but that didn’t keep people from spotting it. Usually it was airport personnel who reported it.

    As far as making a weapon out of it- it’s probably the optimist in me, but I think this would be harder than we think. Not only to weaponize the plane, but to strike a target. Many countries have some version of an Air Defense Intercept Zone (ADIZ). These are RADAR nets which detect incoming traffic. One reason 911 was successful was the North American ADIZ looked for aircraft coming from the outside. We didn’t look for aircraft inside the net. I’m sure that mistake has been corrected.

    Ultimately, we’re talking about the most widely searched for aircraft in the world (even if it is an extremely popular airframe). Someone is going to find it. At least, I like to think someone will.

  11. Yes, you have a plausible theory, unfortunately. Like the 9-11 terrorists used the hijacked planes as “bombs”, imagine a plane filled with nuclear explosives. Scary stuff.

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