In March 2014, one of the most mysterious disappearances in history took place, with many questions left unanswered regarding the fateful day, several years on. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was en route to China from Malaysia when it disappeared, with all 239 people on board presumed dead. Many years on, it is still unclear exactly what happened to the flight, despite the most expensive search in aviation history being conducted. In this article, we take a look at this tragic disappearance.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, bound for Beijing Capital International Airport, China, on 8 March 2014. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER, with a proven track record. Less than an hour after take-off, the aircraft made its final voice contact, when, as expected, the flight was crossing over the South China Sea. The pilot signed off by saying ‘goodnight’ to air controllers. Yet just three minutes later, the aircraft disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens.
The aircraft remained on military radars for a further hour. These radars witnessed the aircraft unexpectedly and inexplicably deviating westwards from its planned flight path. Flight 370 turned back towards Malaysia, before heading on to the Indian Ocean. While it was over the Andaman Sea, the flight disappeared from all radars. No one ever heard from Flight 370 again. There had been no distress signal, no indication of bad weather or any technical problems. Yet aircraft communications had been manually turned off during the flight.
The aircraft was declared lost within hours, and an initial search and recovery effort was made. After this yielded nothing, a multinational search effort was conducted. This search would go on to be the most expensive in aviation history. The search mainly focused on the vast South Indian Ocean, with 46,000 square miles of sea floor searched. Nothing was found. The search was called off in January 2017. A private US Marine company conducted a six-month search in January 2018, based on a study which proposed the most likely crash site. Again, nothing was found.
The only concrete indication of what could have happened results from the discovery of marine debris, which was found on the small Island of Reunion in July 2015. Several pieces of debris washed up on the coast of the island. After being sent for tests, it was subsequently confirmed to be from Flight 370. The majority of the aircraft has not been located. With extensive searches finding nothing, it remains to be seen if this disappearance will ever be sold.
Due to the incredible lack of evidence, there is no official explanation as to what happened. The Malaysian Ministry of Transport released their final report on Flight 370, stating in conclusion that they were ‘unable to determine the real cause’ for the disappearance. Despite this official stance, there have been many possible theories put forward to explain the disappearance.
- Unresponsive Crew: One of the most popular theories is that the crew, and possibly passengers too, were rendered unconscious during the flight. An oxygen deficiency could’ve caused this. It is possible that the flight would remain on autopilot, and then subsequently crashed after running out of fuel. This would seem to be the most likely explanation, though oxygen deficiencies are rare.
- Pilot Suicide: Another popular theory. The flight turned around back towards Malaysia. Captain Shah grew up on the island of Penang. There have been suggestions that the aircraft was positioned into an angle which allowed the pilot a look at Penang. Some suggested it was a ‘long, emotional farewell’, prior to crashing. Shah had also reportedly been having relationship problems. Interviews with the friends and colleagues of Shah revealed that the Captain also had no social plans in the weeks following the date of the aircraft. The fact that communications were turned off manually would also support this theory. There is considerable evidence to suggest this was the cause. Shah’s family have strongly rejected this theory.
- Fire: There have been various accounts of people who purportedly witnessed an aircraft on fire on the night of Flight 370’s disappearance. It is possible that the cargo caused this fire, or some sort of major mechanical fault. But it is unknown why a distress call wouldn’t have been sent.
- Passenger Hijacking: At first, investigators focused on two individuals who had travelled on the plane with false passports. But after further investigations, this possibility was ruled out. Yet it is conceivable that another passenger was able to hijack the plane and pilot it towards an uncertain fate. However investigators checked the backgrounds of all passengers, with this theory being largely ruled out.
- Cargo: Similar to the theory surrounding a fire, it turned out there were many Lithium-ion batteries in the cargo. There have been cases in the past when these batteries have caught fire on planes.
- Shot Down: There were also some suggestions that for some unknown reason, a country would order the aircraft to be shot down. This is one of the more left-field theories.
- Alien Abduction: And, like many other mysterious disappearances, some have suggested that the only possible explanation for the disappearance is an alien abduction. It remains to be seen if this is true.
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All 239 people on board the flight appear to have lost their lives. The majority of people were from China, though there were 14 different nationalities represented in total. The tragedy has however led to safety improvements – focused on increased battery life in underwater beacons, the lengthening of black boxes and cockpit voice recorders, and heightened standards for aircraft position reporting when over the open ocean. These improvements should help to prevent future catastrophes. Perhaps one day this mystery will be solved, but until then, there are several questions left unanswered.