After 9 Years, FBI Investigation of MH370 Still Open

I recently submitted a FOIA request to the FBI for all documents related to MH370, which disappeared more than nine years ago. This week, the FBI responded that the request was denied due to “a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records, and release of the information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings”. This is identical to the response I received two years ago, and two years before that, after I submitted similar requests. It implies the US intelligence community has relevant material that it will not release due to an open criminal investigation.

Although I requested “All information pertaining to Malaysia Air MH370, including but not limited to information pertaining to Captain Zaharie Shah”, the subject of the FBI’s response only referenced Captain Zaharie Shah. This could mean that only the captain is under investigation by the FBI.

In 1971, an unidentified individual that referred to himself as Dan Cooper, who later mistakenly became known as D.B. Cooper, hijacked a Northwest Airlines flight between Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA, and parachuted from the Boeing 727. That FBI investigation remained open for 45 years. With that perspective, it is possible that the facts uncovered in the FBI investigation of Captain Zaharie Shah will be unavailable to the public for a long time.

55 Responses to “After 9 Years, FBI Investigation of MH370 Still Open”

  1. TBill says:

    Thank you for the effort re: FBI FOIA.

    To me this implies USA’s (classified) position probably is that MH370 was an deliberate act by the pilot. Which should be no surprise to anyone: on 15-March-2014 Malaysian PM Razak announced that Malaysia, with assistance of NTSB, FAA, Boeing, Inmarsat, and AAIB determined that deliberate diversion was the most likely explanation for the disappearance.

    What followed after 9-yrs? first of all, Razak’s original statement has stood the test of time. As more of the secretive data became public over the years (civil primary radar, home sim data, etc., not to mention PM Tony Abbott’s comments) it always supported Razak’s original 15-March-2014 “apparent deliberate diversion” disclosure.

    As a weird result, we got the recent NETFLIX “slopumentary” promoting a U.S.A. shootdown and other conspiracy theories. This was in part due to the above U.S. (and Malaysian) silence on the issue, but also a testament to the overwhelming public denial, especially in that part of the world.

    It has been said that the airline industry realizes MH370 was probably a criminal act. Consequently, I see the “big fight” being about what the public is told, which a great many observers feel the public should be told the pilot is innocent until 100% proof otherwise is obtained. Safety measures to prevent future similar instances should not require 100% proof, however.

  2. airlandseaman says:

    Victor: It might be worth a follow up request for all 370 information excluding information about Zaharie Shah.

  3. Victor Iannello says:

    @airlandseaman: You would think they would understand the meaning of “All information pertaining to Malaysia Air MH370, including but not limited to information pertaining to Captain Zaharie Shah”.

  4. Ventus45 says:

    Secrets within secrets, for the sake of having secrets.

    Go back to square 1.
    Just put in a FOI on the NTSB for the data that enable them to generated their initially famous “two tracks”.

  5. Julia Farrington says:

    Well done for your persistence.
    I think @airlandseaman’s suggestion is a good follow up to the FBI’s replies. To specifically exclude any information about Captain Zaharie Shah.

  6. Victor Iannello says:

    @Julia: Thanks for the that.

    At this point, having filed 3 FOIA requests on MH370, I doubt I will get a different response. However, other Americans might have better luck, so I encourage others to try with whatever wording they choose. The submission of a FOIA request to the FBI takes very little time.

  7. TBill says:

    Perhaps the NETFLIX fiasco demonstrates an issue about USA being silent. But my guess is the next excuse would be need for secrecy due to poss damage to Malaysia and.or China diplomatic relations, and ICAO basically gives Malaysia the right to the spin. USA could prompt Malaysia to disclose more (as I suspect we did on the sim data).

    USA is in certain position as a key party to MH370. OZ has seemed more open to sharing, sometimes under certain secrecy agreement, such as DrB re: fuel and MickG re: sim data help.

  8. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: I suspect FBI’s reluctance to share the information is simply what they claim: Zaharie Shah is suspected of a crime, and until he is no longer a suspect, or is found dead, or is presumed to be dead with a high certainty, the investigation will remain open and information will not be released.

  9. Peter Norton says:

    “… or is presumed to be dead with a high certainty”

    Is this not the case ?

  10. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: Can you think of any other reason why a criminal investigation would remain open?

    What do others here think?

  11. Ventus45 says:

    “… or is presumed to be dead with a high certainty”

    There is no presumption to presume your honor. The courts officially declared everyone on the plane dead. That includes the pilots and the cabin crew. There is no therefore reason for any secrecy or obfuscation, from a legal standpoint.

    The political / diplomatic scene is an entirely different kettle of fish.

    Greg Hood (when he was Chief Commissioner of the ATSB) threatened ATSB staff with criminal prosecutions if they released any information at all, especially any that may “harm diplomatic relations between Australia and Malaysia.

    Greg Hood also conducted a very public and vitriolic battle over a number of refused FOI requests with the Australian journalist and author of “The Hunt for MH370” Ean Higgins (who mysteriously disappeared soon afterwards, and is the subject of a NSW Colonial Inquest).

  12. Victor Iannello says:

    @ventus45: I doubt the FBI cares what a Malaysian court declares.

    That said, whether the FBI believes as they claim that it is possible that releasing the evidence could interfere with a future criminal proceeding, or the FBI is using this an excuse to not release the evidence, I really don’t know.

  13. Peter Norton says:

    @Victor Iannello: What I was trying to say:
    How could the FBI possibly believe the Captain (or anyone else on board for that matter) to still be alive when lots of debris has been found in the Indian Ocean ?

  14. Michael John says:

    There are 2 questions to be asked here in my mind:

    1: Is the FBI investigating information supplied by the Malaysian Government?

    2: Or is the FBI conducting a stand alone investigation into Mh370?

    I suspect that the answer is number 1. If that is the case then I can’t see how the FBI can release any information unless it has been authorised by the Malaysian Government.

  15. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: I don’t know.

  16. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: After thinking about this more, perhaps there are co-conspirators under investigation.

  17. TBill says:

    France seems to have similar official position to USA.

    Unfortunately for those favoring public right-to-know for air travel safety reasons, MH370 is not your “average”, random suspected pijacking. The incident probably involves high level Malaysian politics at least tangentially. I personally believe the home sim studies imply a potentially sensitive global security issue at the time.

    Co-conspirators? yes potentially absolutely. To me this is potential implication of sim data (if MH150) and lack of ELT at end.

  18. Peter Norton says:

    @Victor Iannello: “After thinking about this more, perhaps there are co-conspirators under investigation.”

    This is a possibility. But if there are co-conspirators, this would all but rule out the current leading opinion (suicide).

  19. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: Not really, as evidenced by 9/11.

    All speculation, of course, as I am not aware of any evidence of collaboration.

  20. Peter Norton says:

    I don’t know. 9/11 was a terrorist attack.
    MH370 doesn’t bear the hallmarks of a terrorist attack (no claim, no apparent goal, etc.).
    Yes, there can be co-conspirators in a terrorist attack of course, but in case of a suicide unrelated to terrorism (the current leading opinion), I fail to imagine how co-conspirators could be involved.

  21. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: The captain had strong political views and he was active in groups opposing Najib’s administration. Perhaps he had collaborators. If so, claiming responsibility was not part of the plan.

    We can speculate, but it is wild speculation because there is no evidence.

  22. Peter Norton says:

    “If so, claiming responsibility was not part of the plan.”

    The whole point of terrorism is claiming responsibility for the terrorist act in order to create fear, threat, etc. Without claim of responsibility this goal would not be reached and MH370 remains a (regretful) plane crash. I mean, what did it achieve if it was meant as an act of terrorism? I don’t see what.

    Sometimes responsibility is even falsely claimed by terrorist groups.

    9/11 aside, are there any precedents of terrorist acts without claims of responsibility?
    (Except state sponsored terrorism, because obviously no state would claim responsibility for terrorist acts.)

  23. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: It is likely there were political motivations to the disappearance of MH370, and if so, there might have been collaborators. You may disagree.

    Not all terrorist acts are claimed. In fact, there was a study in 2019 on this very topic by Erin Kearns, who concludes that only about half of terrorist acts are claimed. From that paper:

    While there are many reasons to claim credit for an attack, claiming can be detrimental to a group. Groups that use terrorism ultimately want to survive. To survive, groups have to balance the need to gain supporters with concerns about backlash from the populace. Support can be explicit—such as providing resources or recruiting militants —or implicit—such as silence or complacency to the group’s actions. When threats to popular support increase, a group’s likelihood of survival decreases. This, however, is a balancing act since groups also need to demonstrate to potential supporters that they are worthy of support. As Pluchinsky posits, groups will be less likely to claim attacks when doing so would damage their public image.

    Again, I don’t know if the captain had accomplices, as there is no evidence in the public domain that he did, but it is false to assume that the absence of a claim for MH370’s disappearance implies there were no collaborators.

  24. airlandseaman says:

    @Victor: I don’t think first cousin and aircraft engineer Zulhaimi Bin Wahidin was a knowing “collaborator”, but I sure would like to know what they discussed on Feb 2, 2014.

  25. Victor Iannello says:

    Zulhaimi said the call to Zaharie was innocent and unrelated to the disappearance, but some have (naturally) questioned this.

  26. Mike R says:

    Would you ever trust the captains relatives over other individuals about the preceding events leading up to that day, it seems they know more about Zaharie better then anyone else, unless they would be trying to cover up for him, which to me is very unlikely.

  27. Victor Iannello says:

    @Mike R: If I was ever accused of a crime, I would like to think my relatives would portray me in a favorable way.

    The investigation of the captain discovered some events in his past that do not prove guilt, but do raise some red flags that all was not well in his life. At this point, the captain remains a prime suspect for many reasons, although I would welcome exculpatory evidence that exonerates him.

  28. TBill says:

    @Mike R
    I am not from a Southeast Asian culture, but my learning from MH370 is, whereas in USA we look at a (generic) perpetrator as guilty (not the whole family and Country). Especially when it comes to the “S” word, my impression is Asian cultures look at more of collective guilt…hence a more protective family behavior.

  29. Peter Norton says:

    @Victor: Thanks for the link to Erin Kearns’ study, that is interesting.

  30. Mike R says:

    Does anyone seem to recall a report that another pilot was using the International Distress Frequency to call flight 370, and if so how was he so positive it could’ve been the voice of the Co pilot, is he a Malaysian Airlines pilot or is he a personal friend of the Captain, anyone have any details ?

  31. Victor Iannello says:

    @Mike R: This story appeared in the days after the disappearance, and then never again.

    The anonymous captain who claims to have heard static, interference, and mumbling, yet was sure the voice was the First Officer’s, was a B777 captain on the way to Narita, Japan. Based on these details, his identify and his flight should have been easily determined.

    For a number of reasons, I don’t think the claim ever was considered credible.

  32. TBill says:

    If there had been an emergency broadcast from MH370, many other planes and ships should have heard it too (as the Narita pilot himself reportedly said). Pilot Mike Glynn has posted a picture of IGARI area the next night, and there are hundreds of (fishing) vessels out on the water, presumably some with radios. Perhaps the distant Narita bound MAS pilot did hear some static, but he would have been almost out of range. In short, there is not any useful evidence in this account as we currently understand it. Malaysia has not acted appropriately to publicly clear up the hearsay like this, to say the least.

  33. Peter Norton says:

    @all: There is a play button in Victor’s link on the first image: “The pilots attempt contact with MH370 but only hear mumbling and static in reply.”.
    Does it play for anyone here? What can be heard/seen? I can’t get it to work.

  34. Andrew says:

    @Peter Norton

    The audio is just a narration of the events; it’s not a recording of the transmissions. The text of the article has more information than the narration.

  35. vodkaferret says:

    I’m not sure the answer to the FOA request can be used to infer anything, about the Captain or any theories. A plane went missing, people died, there is no firm conclusion about the cause (plenty of ideas but nothing proven 100% as to cause). Until then the case will remain open.

    Good that you keep checking though… The interesting part will be if and when the answer ever changes.

  36. Peter Norton says:

    @Andrew: thank you!

  37. Peter Norton says:

    This podcasts [at around 11:00 minutes] claims MH370 “fluctuated between 31000-33000 feet on its way back across the Malay peninsula” and adds this could possibly be the result of phugoid cycles.

    Is this true ?
    I don’t think so, but just checking.

  38. Don Thompson says:

    @Peter Norton

    The Malaysian investigators, generally, described the observations shared with them. They made little attempt, themselves, to present any analysis of those observations.

    The radar observations of 9M-MRO, crossing east to west, over the Malaysian peninsula were acquired by military and ATC primary surveillance radars (PSRs).

    The ATC PSRs had no intrinsic ability to discern a target’s altitude, however, the aircraft did pass close to the ATC PSRs permitting, with some assumptions, a ground track to be plotted from the slant range. A constant altitude provided the best fit.

    The military radar, assumed to be the Selex RAT-31DL located on Western Hill, Penang Island, did have a capability to report altitude by forming pencil beams that discriminate elevation of the target. Environmental factors will cause errors in the radar’s discrimination of target elevation, hence the variations in reported altitude.

    With access to RAT-31DL radar data it is likely that a useful analysis could be undertaken to determine if there is any credibility to the stories describing altitude variation. The RMAF/TUDM and MoD-MY have resolutely refused to make that data available to independent investigators.

    Unfortunately, a gullible and uninformed press took snippets of information from the March 2014 MY press conferences and their ‘sources’ that then seeded many unfounded myths.

  39. Victor Iannello says:

    @Peter Norton: According to the Malaysian “Factual Information, Safety Investigation for MH370”, March 2015, between 17:30:35 and 17:35, the altitude was 35,700 ft, and between 17:36 and 17:36:40, the altitude fluctuated between 31,000 and 33,000 ft. In the final safety report, the Malaysians conceded the altitude readings should be ignored, as they varied in a physically unrealistic manner.

  40. Peter Norton says:

    @Victor Iannello, @Don Thompson: thank you for the detailed fact check.

  41. TBill says:

    We had sonic booms in our neighborhood today as jets scrambled at supersonic speeds to chase down an unresponsive Cessna Citation small jet, that flew over DC into Virginia. Our daughter texted at 3:10 saying possible earthquake (which was the initial guess for many). Waiting for details on cause.

    We missed it ourselves being out on a Sunday drive.

  42. George Tilton says:


    Here is the Flight Aware link for todays unresponsive Cessna jet

  43. George Tilton says:

    Sorry its Flightradar24, not FlightAware one too many drinks this evening 😉

  44. 370Location says:

    Re: N611VG

    There’s a lone glitch in the ADS-B ground speed showing 195 kt at 07:31:32Z, in a level turn at FL340. Surrounding values every 3 sec are just below 400 kt. Forty seconds later the jet was on its final heading of about 240 deg.

    There could be seismic evidence of the crash site.
    RapidShake sensors in DC caught infrasound of the F16 sonic booms.

  45. Don Thompson says:



    It’d be interesting to determine how any seismic detections dissipate with distance from the crash site. N611VG was recorded as descending at 28,864fpm while passing 10,000ft (ground elevation approx 3000ft).


    Assuming the departure from (AP) controlled flight at circa 19:22UTC resulted from the first engine flaming out, either the CVR (powered from #1/Left engine) or FDR (#2/Right engine) will be lost from that point. The Citation has quite simple, manually controlled, systems. Unfortunately no EHS data from its transponder but there are two ‘blips’ in the NACp parameter during descent.

  46. Victor Iannello says:

    The Citation never descended from FL340, overflew the destination airport (KISP), and continued on a constant heading until fuel exhaustion. It looks like a classic case of hypoxia.

    There is a 30-NM radius airspace around DC called the DC-SFRA (Special Flight Rules Area), and within that, an even tighter controlled area called the FRZ (Flight Restricted Zone). If you bust these areas, you can expect an intercept.

  47. George Tilton says:


    An NRA executive has revealed her 49-year-old daughter and two-year-old granddaughter were killed alongside the girl’s nanny and the pilot when a private Cessna plane crashed in Virginia, leaving no survivors. Barbara Rumpel, a businesswoman and member of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum from Florida, confirmed the news on Facebook Sunday after the small plane went down in the mountainous region of Virginia on Sunday. ‘My family is gone, my daughter and granddaughter,’ Rumpel wrote in a Facebook comment

  48. TBill says:

    @George Tilton
    Sadly must have flown almost right over NRA HQ in northern Va.

    One news report said contact lost at 2PM (1800 UT) which if true would be well before NYC. AutoPilot seems to be heading back to takeoff location for some reason.

  49. George Tilton says:


    After departure from Blountville it paused at FL230 for ~2 min (1:21 to 1:22 EDT) before resuming climb to FL340. That was probably the last conscious action of the pilot…

  50. Victor Iannello says:

    It appears that N611VG was last following the flight plan SIE T320 SARDI V91 CCC KISP at FL340 when it failed to descend and overflew the destination (KISP, Long Island McArthur Airport) and continued to fly on a constant heading upon reaching the end of the flight plan. All the signs of hypoxia.

    The approach to KISP was never loaded and activated, hence the very sharp turn to join the leg CCC-KISP, and also the non-alignment with any runway.

  51. Victor Iannello says:

    @Bill Tracys said: AutoPilot seems to be heading back to takeoff location for some reason.

    It’s clear that the autopilot joined the leg CCC-KISP, overflew KISP, and continued on a constant heading. There is nothing mysterious about the behavior of the autopilot.

  52. TBill says:

    Thank you…good explanation of the U-turn at Long Island.
    I wonder if it magnetic or true heading upon the discontinuity.

  53. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: My guess it is a constant magnetic heading after the route discontinuity, as the only navigational input that is required is from a magnetometer.

    Knowing the winds aloft and the magnetic declination, it would be possible to determine for sure which of the four possible modes was flown, i.e., true/magnetic heading/track.

  54. Victor Iannello says:

    In this image, you can see clearly that the final two legs flown by N611VG are SARDI-V91-CCC-KISP followed by constant heading.

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