Vicious online attacks and death threats were not something Malaysia Airlines MH370 debris hunter Blaine Gibson had expected when he began his self-funded investigations into the missing airliner.
“One said I’d either give up my search or disappear, or die by polonium poisoning. Another one said I won’t leave Madagascar alive.”
The retired American lawyer, had since decided to ‘lay low’ and be more discreet about his investigations - which is centred around the coastlines of the Indian Ocean. To date, Blaine says, he and other other private citizens have discovered 15 pieces of debris, washed ashore on coastlines throughout the Indian Ocean, whereby 13 have been included in the official MH370 investigation report.
(In total, 27 pieces of debris suspected to be from MH370 have been discovered.)
Blaine was in Kuala Lumpur recently to take part in the fourth MH370 commemoration, a gathering of families of passengers and crew on board MH370, which he had attended yearly since 2015.
“The moment I decided that I was really going to do something was at the one (First) year commemoration of MH370, when I came (to Kuala Lumpur) and heard Grace speak about her mother,” says Blaine, “And I realized how unimaginable it was that, after one year, they knew absolutely nothing,” referring to Grace Nathan, daughter of MH370 passenger, Anne Daisy.
I saw that this was not only a mystery to be solved but this one could bring real answers to real people who are in need of them now
A self-described ‘explorer and truth seeker’, what started off as an adventure to uncover the mystery of MH370’s disappearance has become ‘much more’ for Blaine.
“I saw that this was not only a mystery to be solved but this one could bring real answers to real people who are in need of them now,” says the explorer whose previous archaeological expeditions prior had led him to Ethiopia, the jungles of Belize and the bitter cold of Siberia.
“It astounded me that there's no official search on shorelines for debris washed ashore,” Blaine exclaims, “I always thought, the first pieces of the plane are probably going to wash ashore and someone is going to stumble on them on the beach. It’s not going to be the expensive underwater search. The ocean will reveal its secrets.”
In January 2018, a new search area undertaken by Texas-based Ocean Infinity in the remote swath of the Southern Indian Ocean - a year after the official search by Malaysia, Australia and China was called off - has renewed hope that MH370’s wreckage and its crucial black box and data recorders will be found.
“What makes me feel good now is that the debris that I and other private citizens have found has contributed to getting the search renewed. Now, the ship is back in the water and looking in the most likely area to find the plane,” says Blaine, despite the threats and character assassination he had endured online.
But what if the search to track the plane’s wreckage, currently dragging on into its fourth year, turns out to be yet another unsuccessful attempt?
“If they do not find it, then we need to really look at other evidence. It will become clear then, that there is something wrong with the Inmarsat data, or its interpretation.”
“We need to look at other things - the debris, oceanography, personal effects.” Blaine has combed through CCTV footages of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members who boarded the plane from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, before it disappeared.
If they do not find it, then we need to really look at other evidence. It will become clear then, that there is something wrong with the Inmarsat data, or its interpretation
While a substantial amount of smaller plane debris suspected to be from MH370 have been washed ashore - none were personal effects like passports, identification cards or luggage tags - that could definitely tie them to the plane. Some family members still believe their loved ones could still be alive.
“There were witnesses in the Maldives who say the morning MH370 went missing, they saw a low flying jet plane that matches the description. Their sighting, contradicts those of the Inmarsat data, both timing and location, says Blaine, “They are now are looking based on Inmarsat data. But if they don't find it, they should really investigated that witness sighting.
“If we find the black box and crash site, there will still be some unanswered question - that will tell us the “what, where and how”. The “who and why”, may not be answered by that.”
Blaine says he is committed to find evidences, even if the search drags on for years. To help family members find closure, he says, is what he hopes to do.
“My investigation has always been more than just looking for evidences and finding debris. I’m also trying to find out who, if anyone, is responsible for what happened and why this happened.”
The unexplained circumstances surrounding MH370’s disappearance have prompted countless theories about what happened, with theories ranging from hijacking, cabin fire, military attack to the bizarre possibility of alien kidnapping.
But none were more pronounced than the theories suggesting the pilots - Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamidmay have been responsible. But Blaine insists that is not right to point fingers at the crew as there is no evidence to suggest so.
The debris has disproved that it was a controlled flight ditching
“Innocent until proven guilty," says Blaine, adding that the evidence have been pointing away from deliberate pilot action. "The debris has disproved that it was a controlled flight ditching."
“The wing flap washed out in Tanzania was found in retracted position, not deployed,” suggesting that MH370 may have had plunged rapidly and was not configured for landing, before it smashed into the ocean. “There are many other possibilities such as a series of accidents where the crew was overcome and the plane flew on as a ghost plane, or a hijacking - that is actually more likely.”
“We need to reserve judgment, we need to find the black box,” maintains Blaine, adding that if the wreckage is not found, the surface debris search will become even more important.
“If anything washes ashore, that's the only thing that we have then. And I will continue my search.”