Malaysian Air Mystery, What We Now Know About Missing Flight MH370
Just after 1 A.M on March 8th, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight Number 370, en route to Beijing, China from Kuala Lumpur, checked in with Malaysian air traffic control. “Good night, Malaysia Three Seven Zero” were the last words anyone heard from flight MH370 before the Boeing 777 disappeared from the face of the earth with 239 souls on board. Now, 6 years later, there are still more questions than answers about the Malaysian Air Mystery – and what we now know about missing flight MH370 is truly shocking. Almost immediately after the last check-in, just as the plane was crossing from Malaysian
Airspace into Vietnamese airspace, flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens. In the confusion of the zone crossing, it took more than 18 minutes for air traffic controllers to even notice that the plane was missing. Officials on the ground attempted to reach the aircraft numerous times over the next several hours, but the calls went unanswered. The official distress call alerting Kuala Lumpur’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination
Centre that an aircraft and its passengers might be in mortal danger wasn’t made until after 6 A.M., more than 4 hours after the plane disappeared. Early search efforts focused on the South China sea, but 34 ships and 28 aircraft from 7 different countries could find no trace of the plane. It quickly became apparent that they were looking in the entirely wrong area. Within a matter of days after the plane’s disappearance, analysis of radar and satellite
Data provided the shocking details of flight MH370’s final hours. Almost immediately after the good night message, the plane veered dramatically off course. It first made an abrupt turn to the southwest and flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then banked around the island of Penang before heading northwest up the Strait of Malacca and out across the Andaman Sea. This maneuver took more than an hour to accomplish, but the most shocking revelation from the
Radar data was the fact that, after the deviation, the plane cruised on autopilot for hours before it ran out of fuel and plunged into the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles away from the initial search area. There were 3 major investigations in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Australia led the main investigations and search efforts, as they were the closest to the assumed crash site 1200 miles southwest of Perth, and were well-equipped to handle
A major marine search. They began searching by air, but found no trace of the plane. The time wasted searching the South China Sea likely cost them any chance of recovering the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes. After 2 months of fruitless air searches, the team turned their attention to mapping and scouring the ocean floor in one of the deepest, most unexplored regions of the Indian
Ocean. Unsurprisingly, their efforts failed to find any sign of the plane, and the investigation was closed after 3 years. The Malaysian police conducted their own internal investigation, which mainly consisted of background checks on the passengers and crew. The results were underwhelming to say the least – the report was released in 2017, and
It concluded that they were “unable to determine a cause” for the disappearance of flight MH370. It also cleared all passengers and crew of any suspicion. The third official investigation was an international accident inquiry, and it was a mess from the start. International cooperation in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is difficult under
The best of circumstances, but dealing with the autocratic and corrupt Malaysian regime made it nearly impossible to conduct a thorough investigation. It was clear that the Malaysians just wanted the whole situation to go away. It’s unlikely that they were covering up anything sinister – they simply didn’t know what they would find if they looked too closely, and they couldn’t risk uncovering anything that would reflect poorly on the government or its airline.
It quickly became obvious that the Malaysians knew a lot more about the disappearance than what they shared with the world. A Malaysian military base picked up the plane on their radar after it deviated from its flight path, but they neglected to investigate the unexpected aircraft because it looked “friendly”. The Malaysians knew about the change in flight path early on, and withheld that information
Even as rescuers wasted precious hours and days searching in the wrong area. In time, more details that Malaysian officials tried to keep secret would find their way to the public and help paint a picture of what happened to flight MH370, and why – but at the time, due to a lack of cooperation and reliable data, the third investigation was also unable to determine a cause for the disappearance, and was closed. While official investigations proved inconclusive, the search continues to this day, and recent
Finds have led to many new revelations about the fate of flight MH370. A group of volunteer engineers and scientists who met online and called themselves the Independent Group studied the available data and helped narrow down the search area. Using radar and satellite data, investigators and volunteers were able to recreate the plane’s trajectory and pinpoint it’s last known location. As the plane cruised south over the vast expanse of ocean towards Antarctica, which was far
Outside of its range, it crossed paths with a satellite, and their electronic “handshake” provides us with a general idea of the plane’s last known location somewhere southwest of Australia. Other investigators used a different tactic, working backwards from locations where debris eventually drifted ashore, and analyzing weather systems, drift patterns and currents to recreate the debris’ journey and find the plane’s final resting place.
This is a much bigger task that you might imagine, consider the millions of square miles of water and tens of thousands of miles of coastline in the Indian Ocean. Experts also had to worry about a phenomenon that they dubbed “The Gibson Effect” – searchers focusing their attention on areas where debris had already been found, simply because people were already looking there, can take focus off of other areas, particularly to the North, where debris might yet be found, and skew the data.
The Gibson Effect was named for Blaine Gibson, an American lawyer-slash-adventurer whose goal is to visit every country in the world. Gibson also can’t resist a mystery, and since learning of the fate of flight MH370, he has arranged his travels to allow him to help in the search efforts. After visiting Malaysia and meeting some of the families of those lost on flight MH370, Gibson figured that the best way he could help was by being on the ground – he began
Visiting coastal areas where debris might wash up and painstakingly combing the beaches for clues. Even though this amounted to searching for a needle in a haystack, Gibson’s crazy idea actually paid off. On the advice of some Australian oceanographers about ocean currents and drift patterns, Gibson first visited Mozambique, where he asked local fishermen to show him where they would often
Find washed up nets and fishing equipment. Against all odds, there he found a scrap of metal that looked suspiciously like a plane part, and it was later confirmed to be a part of MH370’s horizontal stabilizer panel. More discoveries would follow, and Gibson built a network of locals all along the Indian Ocean coastline who would bring – or sell – him their finds. In the end, of the several dozens of pieces of debris found that were confirmed or suspected
To be from MH370, Gibson would be personally responsible for finding one third of those pieces. And in case he ever forgot why he was doing this, he often found empty purses and backpacks washed up along with the debris, a haunting reminder of the lives lost. So, what are the biggest things we’ve learned in the years since Malaysian Flight MH370 disappeared?
What do we know now that we didn’t know back then? Well, first of all, we know we can rule out most of the prevailing conspiracy theories about Flight MH370 that are kicking around online. There’s a faction that claims that the unusual signals picked up by radar and satellite were fraudulent, designed to disguise the plane’s true flight – although proponents of this theory don’t seem to have any idea what the point of that “true” flight was.
There’s also the British tarot card reader who was sailing near South Asia when she witnessed what looked like a missile or plane on a suicide mission flying low overhead, headed for a nearby Chinese fleet. When she returned from her holiday and learned of the disappearance of flight MH370, she concluded that what she had seen must have been the missing plane, and spread her theory across the web, despite being nowhere near the plane’s path.
There are even those who believe that the plane flew into some sort of a time warp or black hole. According to William Langewiesche, a writer for The Atlantic, none of these theories hold any water, and even the less outlandish ones often “ignore the satellite data, and in some cases, also the radar tracks, the aircraft systems, the air-traffic-control record, the physics of flight, and the basic contours of planetary geography.”
And of course, there are also plenty of people who are looking to capitalize on the tragedy and mystery. One Australian man claimed to have found the plane’s wreckage on Google Earth, sitting intact in shallow waters. Obviously, he refuses to give up the location of this monumental find until his Kickstarter campaign for an expedition is fully funded…
If we ignore the straight-up conspiracies and frauds, what are we left with? Based on everything we’ve learned in the last few years, experts can make some assumptions about what happened in those final hours on board Malaysian Flight MH370. We know that when the plane deviated from it’s planned flight path, it was an intentional move – in order to make the tight maneuvers used to turn around, the plane would have to have been operated by hand.
We also know that the plane then cruised on autopilot for 6 full hours in the direction of Antarctica before it ran out of fuel. Based on the dramatic final descent – the plane reached speeds of 15,000 feet per second before abruptly crashing into the water and exploding into a thousand pieces – experts have assumed that the final maneuver was intentional, since it was 5 times faster than we’d expect an unassisted descent to be.
In light of this, it might be a relief to know that most of the passengers and crew on board had probably passed away long before the dramatic last moments of flight MH370. Flight data shows that, shortly after the initial turn, the plane’s electronic systems were disabled – including the cabin air pressurization system – and that whoever was in control of the plane executed a dramatic climb that likely accelerated the depressurization of the cabin, incapacitating and killing everyone on board.
The onboard oxygen masks, which would have dropped from above in the dimly lit cabin, would have been no help at such a high altitude. Everyone outside the cockpit would have quickly passed out and died gently within minutes, with no choking or gasping for air. The cockpit, on the other hand, had an hours-long supply of oxygen. The most likely scenario to explain why flight MH370 disappeared is a dramatic case of pilot
Suicide. Although the official Malaysian report indicated no problems with either of the pilots, word eventually spread that the Pilot in Charge, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was recently divorced and had been facing some personal issues, and he was likely clinically depressed. He also had his own flight simulator at home, on which he had practiced the exact route that the fated flight took.
But these are still just assumptions – there’s still plenty we don’t know about the tragic disappearance of flight MH370. We still don’t know for sure who was in the cockpit during the deviation, the long flight, and the ultimate end, and we don’t know for sure why that person, whoever they were, decided to do what they did. We don’t know why Malaysian military didn’t intervene when they could, and why initial
Search and rescue efforts were so delayed. We also don’t know what else Malaysian officials know that they haven’t told us, or why they are so reluctant to share. And, of course, although we know roughly where the plane was just before it ran out of fuel, we still don’t know for sure where exactly the plane crashed. Sadly, we’ll probably never have all of the answers to these questions, and the mystery
Of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 may never be fully solved. But the search continues for the plane’s wreckage, and we may know more in the future than we know right now. Now go watch “Top 10 Deadliest Airplane Accidents that Ever Happened”, or you might like this other one instead.