It's been just 71 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 people on board. But in what appears to be the first book about the mystery, London-based author Nigel Cawthorne offers a new theory on the missing plane: It was accidentally shot down during a joint Thai-U.S. military training exercise.
"Did they die painlessly, unaware of their fate?" Cawthorne writes in "Flight MH370: The Mystery," which was published Monday in Australia. "Or did they die in terror in a flaming wreck, crashing from the sky in the hands of a madman?"
Cawthorne bases his theory on an oil rig worker who says he saw a burning plane go down around the time the plane's transponder went off — and when the military exercise was reportedly in progress.
"The drill was to involve mock warfare on land, in water, and in the air, and would include live-fire exercises," Cawthorne writes.
He suggests the plane's disappearance is part of a massive international cover-up.
"Say a participant accidentally shot down Flight MH370," Cawthorne writes. "Such things do happen. No one wants another Lockerbie, so those involved would have every reason to keep quiet about it."
The author, who says he's written more than 150 books, posits that officials have been releasing misinformation in order to keep the plane from being found.
"Now I'm not saying that's what happened," Cawthorne writes, "but if a black box is found, who is to say that it is from Flight MH370? Another black box could have been dropped in the sea 1,000 miles from Perth while the search was going on in the South China Sea. In these circumstances, with the amount of disinformation abroad, it is best to be skeptical."
Not surprisingly, news of Cawthorne's book has angered some of the victims' family members.
"Nobody knows what happened, so why would anyone want to put out a book at this stage?" Irene Burrows, the mother of one of the victims, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "There's absolutely no answers. It's devastating for the families."
Others shared Burrows's outrage.
Nigel Cawthorne is the WORST. Trying to profit off the pain of #MH370 families. Irresponsible. No evidence. Fuel for conspiracists— Jillian Gustafson (@planesafeorg) May 18, 2014
Cawthorne's book is not the only entertainment project linked to the Malaysia Air mystery.
On Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival, Indian director Rupesh Paul debuted a teaser trailer for “The Vanishing Act," with a poster bearing the tagline: "The untold story of the vanished Malaysian flight.”
Paul is hoping to attract investors to finance the drama, which he says will cost $3.5 million to produce.
“People ask me one thing,” Paul told Variety. “If you’re saying a theory and suddenly the flight is found and it’s totally the opposite, your investment will be wasted. We will be fools. That’s the biggest challenge I’m facing.”