If the Boeing 777 had flown at maximum speed, it had enough fuel to travel more than 3,000 miles, and the distance from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, where the flight was headed. From Kuala Lumpur to the Chagos Archipelago is roughly the same. The plane could have easily reached one of the 60 uninhabited Chagos islands before it ran out of fuel.
The Chagos Archipelago
What then? Some of these islands are coral atolls, thin bands of sandy reefs. Others are solid land, miles long, sometimes covered with brush 10 feet high or coconut trees. Some of them have long broad hard sand beaches (think Daytona Beach in Florida, used for car races), which might allow a plane to land (or semi-crashland) to a skidding stop without breaking up.
Boeing 777 pilots have stated publicly that this plane can land with as little as 4,000 feet of landing area, and it is also possible that the plane could have done a “Sullenberger” type water landing inside an atoll, as Sully recently did on the Hudson River in New York City without loss of life. The Chief Pilot of MA370 had over 18,000 hours of flying time under his belt. From there, the passengers and crew could either swim ashore in their lifevests or take to lifeboats (the slides that balloon out of the planes in an emergency landing are often able to be used for this purpose).
Here are the candidates: the Indian Ocean has 59 islands or archipelagos (some such as Chagos with as many as 60 individual islands or atolls), over an area 6,000 miles wide if measured from South Africa to Australia. Given the maximum range of the plane, at its fuel capacity, which is about 3,000 miles, no land mass west of Chagos or the Maldive Islands (800 miles north of Chagos and much closer to India) exists. Other candidates closer to Malaysia would be the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, directly south of the northern tip of Indonesia at about the same latitude as Chagos and controlled by Australia, or Christmas Island, between Indonesia and Australia, which has an airstrip.
But the problem with all of these islands is that they are populated, and given the world’s fascinated focus on the missing plane, if the plane landed on a populated island, we would all know by now. The only possible unpopulated landing place is one of the northern islands in the Chagos Archipelago, which, except for the huge American military base on Diego Garcia at the southern end of the archipelago, have all been depopulated except for sea turtles and birds. They are part of the Chagos Archipelago Strict Nature Preserve, and it is now forbidden to land on the islands or anchor a boat nearby.
Possible Landing Sites
Unless of course you have kidnapped a Boeing 777 and need to land it somewhere soon. So here are the possibilities:
- Nelsons Island. The northernmost and easternmost of the islands of the Great Chagos Bank, it is a low, bushy, sandy uninhabited (except by sea turtles) island one mile long and only a few hundred yards wide. It also has a long, broad sandy beach which might serve as a hard landing spot.
- Eagle Islands. The second largest island of the Chagos Archipelago after Diego Garcia, with a land area of about one square mile, is located on the central-western rim of the Great Chagos Bank, closer to Diego Garcia and its communications station than Nelsons Island. It is vegetated with high coconut trees, and looks (from NASA pictures) like it is surrounded by broad sandy beaches.
- Danger Island. Appropriately named, it is 1.2 miles long and 0.62 miles wide, and is flat, but it is also vegetated with palm trees up to 39 feet high. It is located near the Eagle Islands, and it has no safe anchorage (hence the name), but it appears from NASA images to have long, broad sandy beaches.
Of course, the plane could have landed on the 12,000 foot runway built by the American military on Diego Garcia, but there is no way the American military and its CIA operatives stationed there would not let the world know that the plane is safe there. Or…
Ted Vaill, a lawyer in Los Angeles, once had a Top Secret SIOP-ESI security clearance, the highest possible. He would have to kill you if he told you why (just kidding).