Flight 370: Disappeared or Taken?

By Bisruti Pandey, G9

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 took flight on March 8th, 2014 and was never seen again. It took off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:41 am. The disappearance of this aircraft led to search efforts stretching from Central Asia to the west of Australia. Where did it go? What happened to the 277 passengers and 12 crew members on board?  How does a Giant Boeing 777 disappear mid-flight? 

The plane reached cruising altitude less than an hour into the flight. The aircraft was supposed to signal air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam as it was nearing their airspace. Two minutes later, the aircraft vanishes suddenly from all of the radar screens. This radar communication was done by two transponders on board the plane. If the plane suddenly disappeared, this entailed that these transponders ceased to function. Or someone on board the aircraft turned them off…

After all, attempts to contact the aircraft were unsuccessful. The plane seemingly vanished without a trace. The last words ever heard from that aircraft and anyone on board was “goodnight MH370.” After the aircraft missed its estimated arrival time at Beijing four hours later, it was officially declared missing. In light of that declaration, the most expensive search effort in aviation history began. 

Early search efforts focused on the South China Sea, but the 34 ships and 28 aircrafts from 7 different countries were unable to find any signs of the plane. It quickly became apparent that they were looking in an entirely wrong area. Then search efforts were quickly shifted to the Indian Ocean. Within days, analyses of the radar and satellite revealed shocking details about flight MH370’s final hours. 

Almost immediately after the goodnight message, the plane veered dramatically off course – it made an abrupt turn and flew back towards the Malay Peninsula. After it went around the island of Penang before heading northwest to the Strait of Malacca, then along the Andaman sea. This took well over an hour to execute, but the most shocking discovery was that afterward, the plane cruised on autopilot for hours until it finally ran out of fuel and plunged into the Indian ocean. 

There were 3 initial investigations around the aftermath of the crash. Australia led the primary investigation as they were closest to the presumed crash site. They conducted searches both on the ocean and through the air but were left with no revelations. After 2 months of aimlessly searching, the search team then began mapping the deepest, unexplored parts of the Indian ocean with some hope of understanding what might have happened to the airplane. Once again, their efforts failed. Finally, this investigation was closed by Australia after 3 years.

Malaysia also conducted its own internal investigation on this issue. They conducted background checks on the members aboard the airplane. They ended up not being able to determine a cause for the disappearance. 

The third and final investigation was an international search where nations came together. But this was a mess from the beginning – cooperation between countries in the aftermath of a disaster is very uncommon and especially in this case, many nations had differing opinions. On top of that, the Malaysians made it very clear that they wanted the whole situation to go away. They weren’t trying to hide something, but they couldn’t risk trying anything else that may result in financial losses. 

Several nations and organizations sent their best search forces to scour for this aircraft. They searched the majority of the Indian ocean but turned up empty-handed. Still nothing. How does a giant aircraft just vanish without a trace?

There are several theories as to what may have happened to this aircraft. One theory suggests that this was an alien abduction. A Twitter user received a recording. He said that the message sounded like a series of numbers and letters. According to some, the NATO phonetic alphabet translates the recording as, “S Danger SOS it is dire for you to evacuate be caution they are not human: 042933964230 SOS Danger SOS.” Although this was later proven as a hoax, many people still believe that this is the correct theory.

A second theory would be that the plane was hijacked. As soon as the aircraft disappeared, many speculated that the plane was hijacked by passengers. This theory first gained popularity after discovering that two people on board were traveling with stolen passports. Investigators cleared the two after finding nothing linking them to terrorist groups; it is believed they were trying to illegally immigrate to Europe. The police did extensive background searches but couldn’t discover anything suspicious or incriminating. 

A third theory was that it was shot down. One of the earliest ideas suggested the plane was headed towards Diego Garcia, a British atoll in the Indian Ocean where the US has a military base. However, the US military has denied that the aircraft came anywhere near Diego Garcia.

The final and most familiar theory suggests that the pilot had veered off course and that he was a “rogue pilot.” This theory states that this was a murder-suicide attack and that once the plane veered off course, it just flew in one direction until it ran out of fuel and eventually crashed in the Indian Ocean. Since the search efforts were in the wrong area throughout the beginning, this might have resulted in the plane sinking before any debris was found. There is some evidence to back up this claim. A piece of evidence would be that the US investigators found a draft flight path that was eerily similar to the one taken by the plane at the captain’s home. 

Even with the provided evidence and/or theories, no one knows what really happened to flight MH370. Was it just a series of unfortunate events or something much more sinister?

Cover illustration courtesy of Thomas Dimayuga, G11

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