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Why the 'expert' in the cockpit is crucial to the case of the missing plane

The facts point to this frighteningly unprecedented theory.

Photos of the pilots. Credit: CNN Screenshot.

Malcolm Gladwell has a rule he propagated in his best-seller "Outliers" making the case that people who are truly experts at their craft require at least 10,000 hours of practice or training. Innate abilities may play a role, but ultimately, mastery can only be achieved through hours - 10,000 to be precise - of practice.

Which brings us, as all things have in my mind over the last two weeks, to the missing plane MH370.

The captain of the plane, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had been flying since 1981 and accrued 18,360 hours. Considering he also had a flight simulator installed in his house, it's safe to say he had double the threshold to be considered a aviation expert - a master of his trade. (For comparisons sake, Captain Sully had 20,000 also.)

On one hand, Ahmad Shah would be the exact type of captain you'd want in the cockpit if some disaster happened - whether it was a system malfunction, an electrical fire or a hijacking. You would imagine he'd be the best equipped to handle a crisis, both in dealing with the issue at hand and communicating it to authorities.

We don't know much about what happened to the missing plane, but we do know what we don't know. And that's the fact that someone - whether the captain, the co-pilot or someone else - said "good night" and nothing was heard from anyone again. And yet, events continued to occur on board that plane - transponders were shut off, the flight path was manually changed multiple times, the plane flew for another five to seven hours.

So what happened? Right now we're left with a map of two gigantic arrows making an arc - one showing a path South over the Indian Ocean, and the other showing a path North over several countries. We also know data was deleted from the captain's flight simulator. And again, this is an expert pilot.

If it was a hijacking, why wouldn't the expert pilot (or anyone on board) find some way to let ground control know by giving some distress signal? If it was a suicide mission, why wouldn't the expert pilot ditch the plane before flying for five more hours? If it was mechanical, why would the plane make human-necessary movements during the course of the first few hours?

I think the plane went North, and the pilot landed it somewhere. The passengers would have been mostly sleeping on the red eye flight and otherwise clueless as to the change in flight path since most of the trip would be over water. The only caveat is why - family and friends have vouched for the pilot - but that's a separate issue. The facts point to this frighteningly unprecedented theory.

Before 9/11, it would have been inconceivable that terrorists could simultaneously hijack four commercial planes and crash them into incredibly important and powerful buildings. But it happened. It seems inconceivable that this plane and passenger hostage-taking could happen, but if there was a pilot who could pull it off, this expert would be the one to do it.

What's your take? Let me know on Twitter at @SteveKrak

One last thing…
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