Flight MH370: The Vanishing Aircraft That Became Aviation's Biggest Mystery
In an age of technological advances that seem to connect the entire world, it should be impossible for 239 people to simply vanish into thin air. Yet, on March 8, 2014, that's exactly what happened to the passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. More than five years later, the plane's final destination — and how it got there — has never been discovered.
Throughout the course of several ongoing investigations, new evidence has emerged that suggests a shocking portrait of the flight's final moments, but how do you separate fact from fiction? Here’s what we really know about Flight MH370, the vanishing aircraft that became aviation’s biggest mystery
Aviation's Most Impossible Mystery
Using a device small enough to fit into your pocket, it's now possible to access GPS navigation to pinpoint your exact location, browse centuries of knowledge with the tap of a button and have a conversation with someone on another continent. So, is it really possible that a Boeing 777 managed to simply vanish without a trace? Well, not exactly.
The Last Known Photo of Passengers Waiting to Board Flight 370
It all began in the dead of night when flight MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. As 227 men, women and children settled into their seats, they had no way of knowing they would never touch down in Beijing. The flight was scheduled to land at 6:30 a.m. the following morning, but not a single person who boarded the ill-fated aircraft would ever leave its cabin.
The Pilot and the First Officer
The cockpit was manned by the pilot in command, a 53-year-old senior captain named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and Fariq Hamid, the 27-year-old first officer. While Zaharie had enjoyed a long and prestigious career with Malaysia Airlines, Fariq had just worked his way up the ranks, and the flight was supposed to be his final training flight.
"Good Night. Malaysian Three Seven Zero."
As Fariq flew the airplane up to 35,000 feet, Captain Zaharie handled radio communication. At 1:08 a.m., he reported the plane had reached its cruising altitude as it set out over the South China Sea in the direction of Vietnam. A little over 10 minutes later, as the aircraft prepared to enter Vietnamese airspace, Zaharie checked in one final time with the control team at Kuala Lumpur Center.
MH370 Disappears from Radar
Zaharie never checked in with Ho Chi Minh City, and he never answered any of the Vietnamese control team's attempts to make contact with Flight MH370. Less than a minute after the plane entered Vietnamese airspace, all transponder signals radiating from the aircraft stopped transmitting, effectively making the plane "disappear" from radar.
False Information in Operations
What happened next has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Whether it was due to incompetence or confusion, the watch supervisor at Kuala Lumpur didn't alert the Kuala Lumpur Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) that the plane was missing until 5:30 a.m., nearly four hours after it disappeared from radar.
The World Learns the Flight Has Been Lost
When the plane failed to touch down in Beijing the next morning, Malaysian Airlines had effectively run out of time. At 7:24 a.m., an hour after the plane's projected landing time, the airline issued a statement explaining that communication with the aircraft had been lost and that the government was currently in the midst of organizing a search-and-rescue operation.
The Search Takes an Unexpected Turn
Days later, on March 14th, 2014, The Wall Street Journal published the suspicions of several U.S. investigators who had been looking into the flight's disappearance. The investigation pointed to the fact that although the aircraft may have dropped from the radar, there might still be clues left behind by the automatic satellite signals sent from its onboard systems.
New Evidence Leads to Startling Discoveries
Although investigators had assumed the plane disappeared from radar due to a crash, they discovered the plane had actually remained in the air for hours after its last sighting on radar. Then, the Malaysian government came forward with startling new evidence.
The Mystery of the Missing 7 Hours
As it turned out, the Malaysian Air Force had picked up an unidentified aircraft on military radar on the night MH370 disappeared. Razak announced that experts now believed the mystery aircraft was MH370. The Prime Minister confirmed the plane had indeed flown much longer and much farther than previously thought — and in an entirely different direction.
Deliberate Action Confirmed
Razak outlined the implications of the evidence. "These movements are consistent with the deliberate action by someone on the plane," the Prime Minister went on to explain. Not only had all search efforts up to that point been conducted thousands of miles in the wrong direction, but the crash was no accident. The shock was compounded by the fact that the lost days of fruitless searching in the wrong direction had cost searchers the opportunity to spot the initial debris from the plane's wreckage.
Search Efforts Mount in a New Direction
For answers, researchers once again turned to the telltale automatic satellite pings, which had been picked up on a satellite over the Indian Ocean. If the plane's communications system had been fully active, the connections would have contained a great deal more information. Under proper working conditions, they would have relayed everything from maintenance reports to in-flight passenger entertainment content between the plane and the satellite.
Whispered Satellite Hints
Although the satellite pings couldn’t convey the plane's exact location at the time of contact, they were able to give researchers a few vital hints. By measuring the distance of the plane from the satellite during each ping, researchers were able to construct two possible flight arcs for the aircraft, depending on whether it was flying north or south.
The True Flight Path Begins to Emerge
According to the data, this meant the flight's final landing place was somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The revelations made using satellite data further backed what the Malaysian military's last radar sighting suggested. Not long after its final contact, the plane had failed to continue along its flight path toward Vietnam. Instead, it had mysteriously turned around and flown back over the border of Malaysia and Thailand.
Reality Begins to Sink In
From there, the missing aircraft appears to have turned again and flown beyond military radar, as it continued its path toward some of the most remote parts of the world’s oceans. It was there, with nothing but miles of endless waves there to bear witness, the plane ultimately ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea.
Malaysian Airlines Is Forced to Admit Impossibility of Survivors
Malaysia Airlines announced that Flight MH370 had not only crashed, but there was no possibility of survivors. The airline then set about the horrible task of informing the families. Many received the news in person or over the phone, while an unlucky few were notified by text message.
Conspiracy Theories Begin to Fly
When tragedy strikes, there's something intrinsic in the human spirit that demands an explanation. During the initial stages of the investigation into flight MH370, a vast array of conspiracy theories began to circulate on the internet. Tales were spun that blamed everyone from Russian Special Operatives to supernatural forces.
Two Passengers Revealed to Be Traveling on Fake Passports
Investigators discovered two young men on the passenger manifest for MH370 were traveling on stolen passports. Both were of Iranian descent and were eventually revealed to be 19-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammad and 29-year-old Seyed Mohammed Rezar Delawar. Although the world quickly began jumping to conclusions about the two suspects, investigators at Interpol weren't so sure they had anything to do with it.
An Attempt at Asylum Gone Horribly Wrong
As it turned out, the two men were not hijackers but refugees who planned to seek asylum in Europe. One was attempting to meet his mother, who was waiting for him a few connections away in Germany. The other had taken the opportunity to join his friend in the search for a better life.
The Hijacking Theory Has Some Issues
In a post-9/11 world, aircraft are equipped with fortified cockpit doors, making it incredibly hard to break into the cockpit and get to the pilot. Not only are the doors electronically bolted, but they are monitored by video feeds the pilots can see.
An Unlikely Suspect Emerges
Before publicly accusing anyone of mass murder — especially someone no longer alive to defend themselves — it should be noted that even the strongest theories today are still just theories. Until the black box or other revealing evidence from MH370 is recovered, it will continue to be impossible to say for sure exactly what happened on the night of March 14, 2014.
The Silent Passenger Cabin
The two men did not specifically request to fly together that night, which leads many to believe that it's more likely only one was behind the plane's final nosedive. Even more unnerving, many experts believe it’s likely that by the time the plane made its final descent, only one of the 239 people aboard Flight MH370 was still alive.
Experts Present a Chilling Theory for Mass Murder
In 2018, Australia's 60 Minutes aired an episode featuring a team of experts who attempted to hash out the most likely explanation for the disappearance of Flight MH370. The panel consisted of several aviation specialists, the former ATSB chief who was in charge of the investigation into the flight's disappearance and an oceanographer.
Death by Rapid Depressurization
Exner believes that Zaharie either killed his young first officer or locked him out of the cockpit before performing his infamous U-turn. He speculates that throughout the course of the turn, the pilot climbed the aircraft up to a height of 40,000 feet, which would have rapidly depressurized the cabin.
The Plane's Telltale Turns
Although the effect of the climb would have been lethal, it likely wasn't obvious enough to those on board to raise any alarms until the sudden appearance of the useless oxygen masks. Within minutes, the lack of oxygen would have immobilized the passengers, and they would have slipped into unconsciousness before ultimately dying in their sleep.
A Captain's Final Farewell?
"If you look very carefully, you can see it's actually a turn to the left, and then start a long turn to the right. And then [he does] another left turn. So, I spent a long time thinking about what this could be, what technical reason is there for this, and, after two months, three months thinking about this, I finally got the answer: Someone was looking out the window," Hardy said.
The FBI Unveils an Unnerving Flight Simulation
The 60 Minutes special led many to believe the truth was finally coming out about the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370, but others pointed out that theories revolving around Captain Zaharie were nothing new. From the beginning of the investigation, the Captain was a prime suspect for many investigators.
Forever Lost at Sea?
Zaharie’s case has not been helped by fellow pilots, who described him as "lonely and sad" and suggested that his marriage was failing at the time of the disappearance. Meanwhile, Zaharie’s family claims that both the rumors of his strained marriage and the infamous flight simulation were fabricated or misinterpreted.
The Haunting Questions of MH370
Although the small pieces of debris have fully confirmed the reality of the plane's crash, they haven’t revealed much information beyond that. Many international investigators and volunteers still hope to recover the remains of the flight's passengers, if only for the sake of their families.
The Lost Flight's Legacy Lives On
The sad truth is the world may never know the truth. Conspiracy theories continue to abound and probably always will, regardless of how much future evidence comes to light. Some insist the plane was accidentally shot down as part of a military training exercise, while others believe it was the victim of a botched hijacking attempt or an elaborate computer hack.