Vladimir Putin ordered Russian special forces to hijack Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and fly it to a spaceport in Kazakhstan, an aviation expert who appeared on CNN has claimed. Jeff Wise, a private pilot and science writer, became a familiar face during the US news channel’s coverage of the plane’s disappearance last year and continues his research into the mystery.
He has extensively blogged on the subject and wrote a book called The Plane That Wasn't There outlining his theories.
Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation declared the plane’s fate an “accident” last month, saying everyone on board had died when it crashed into the sea after running out of fuel.
Although British satellite company Inmarsat’s data concluded that the Boeing 777 went down in the Indian Ocean, Mr Wise contends that the navigation data was “spooked” to disguise the fact it few north.
He admits he has “no idea” why the Russian President would want to “steal a Malaysian passenger plane?”
“Maybe he wanted to demonstrate to the United States, which had imposed the first punitive sanctions on Russia the day before, that he could hurt the West and its allies anywhere in the world,” he wrote in New York Magazine.
“Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane’s passengers.
“Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold.
“Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere someday, packed with explosives. There’s no way to know.”
But Mr Wise claims he has evidence that the plane made its way to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which is run by Russia as its largest space launch facility.
Investigators initially considered possible journeys by MH370 through a northern “corridor” from Thailand to Kazakhstan but later settled on the southern corridor into the Indian Ocean, where recent searches have been focused.
Mr Wise detailed his theory extensively on his blog, where he claims that hijackers accessed the electronics compartment on the plane to tamper with satellite transponders and fool trackers into believing the plane travelled towards the Indian Ocean.
He used satellite images to find the Yubileyniy area of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which he contends could have been reached by MH370, and compare changes in the landscape showing the apparent demolition of buildings to suggest that evidence of the landing may have been destroyed.
Map showing the new search area in the Indian ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in January
Mr Wise claims there were three “ethnic Russians” among the 239 passengers on crew on board – one of whom was sitting near the hatch leading to the electronics compartment.
Suggesting they could have been covert operatives, he wrote: “As I looked at the few pictures available on the internet, they definitely struck me as the sort who might battle Liam Neeson in midair.”
On his blog, Mr Wise wrote that Russia had the “means and technical savvy” to carry out the supposed hijack, noting that MH370’s disappearance coincided with the start of the annexation of Crimea as the Ukraine crisis raged.
Unsurprisingly, state-funded channel Russia Today was not impressed by Mr Wise’s theory.
“Anti-Russia propaganda over Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was bad enough,” it lamented.
“Now one CNN aviation analyst is blaming Russia for the missing MH370 plane as well.”
The outlet pointed out that the Baikonur Cosmodrome is not a secretive and remote airstrip but the world’s largest operational space launch facility used for flights to the International Space Station.
Mr Wise is conscious of the outlandish nature of his theory, saying he “definitely had a problem” with the intensity of his fascination with MH17.
“My gut still tells me I’m right, but my brain knows better than to trust my gut,” he wrote in New York Magazine.
His is not the only conspiracy theory – the lack of a conclusive explanation by investigators or any trace of the missing plane has fed a range of alternative explanations.
People have speculated that the plane was shot down by various agents including the US military, hijacked by the Taliban, flown north in the shadow of another plane, landed on a desert island or deliberately crashed by a suicidal pilot.
Investigators have not announced any evidence of foul play but said the “accident” declaration was primarily to allow passengers’ relatives to claim compensation under international aviation rules.