Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41am on 8th March 2014. Carrying mainly Chinese passengers, the Boeing 777’s destination was Beijing. 38 minutes after takeoff, the plane stopped communicating with Air Traffic Control. MH370 was tracked for a further hour by military radar as it flew over the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean. After that, it was never heard from again.
The search for MH370 became the most expensive in aviation history. Lasting three years, the search scoured 120,000 km2 of the Indian Ocean until it was called off in 2017 having found nothing. A private search was launched the following year by the contractor Ocean Infinity; again, no trace of the missing plane was found. Ocean Infinity is hoping to reopen its search in 2023 or 2024, pending approval from the Malaysian government.
The official explanation for the disappearance of MH370 is that it crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean. As reported by the BBC, in a news conference in 2014, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Inmarsat (a satellite data company) and the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch 'have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.
‘This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.'
Many theories have been put forward since the plane’s disappearance. These range from the plausible, such as a hijacking or a cockpit fire, to the outlandish, such as alien abduction or the plane being sucked into a black hole.
Debris that was identified as belonging to MH370 washed up on the shores of islands in the western Indian Ocean in 2015 and 2016, which has put an end to some of the wilder rumours, but until the wreckage of the plane is found and its flight recorders are recovered, the true reason for its disappearance will continue to fuel speculation.
Here we take a look at some of the theories that have been put forward since the plane disappeared in 2014.
Hijacking was suggested as a possible cause almost immediately after the plane disappeared. More than 600 runways were identified where hijackers could have supposedly landed the plane. However, as PM Najib Razak confirmed, the plane’s final position was too far from any landing sites for this to be a possible explanation. When parts of Flight MH370 began washing up a year after the plane vanished, the idea that it had been hijacked and flown to an unknown location became highly unlikely.
The most popular hijacking theories are:
Terrorism - DEBUNKED
Speculation that the plane had been taken by terrorists was fuelled by speculation on social media. Russian media, meanwhile, floated the idea that terrorists had flown the plane to Afghanistan and were holding its passengers and crew hostage.
North Korea - DEBUNKED
A rumour on social media suggested that the plane had been hijacked and flown to North Korea, as had happened to Korean Airlines YS-11 in 1969. The rumour had little credibility as China is one of the few allies North Korea has, making the mass kidnapping of its citizens not only highly implausible, but also dangerous to a regime that relies so heavily on its neighbour.
Diego Garcia - DEBUNKED
Conspiracy theorists began circulating the idea online that the plane had been hijacked by the United States and flown to the US military base on the island of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory. The US authorities strenuously denied they had any involvement with the plane’s disappearance and pointed towards the debris that began washing up in 2015 as proof.
Phantom Cellphone Theory – DEBUNKED
Several relatives and friends of passengers onboard Flight MH370 said they could still hear the phone ringing when they tried to contact passengers after the plane disappeared. This led people to claim that, because the passengers still had working phones, they must be alive and being held hostage somewhere. This theory was debunked by the wireless analyst Jeff Kagan who explained that ringing can still be heard after a phone has been destroyed as the network searches for a connection.
As well as the various hijacking theories, other explanations have been put forward. These are:
Pilot Suicide – UNPROVEN
According to aviation expert Ewan’s Wilson book Good Night Malaysian 370: The Truth Behind the Loss of Flight 370, Zaharie Shah, the plane’s pilot may have committed suicide.
The theory gained traction when it was discovered that Shah had made no social or professional plans after 8th March. Furthermore, Flight MH370 made three turns out of its scheduled flightpath that took in the island of Penang where Shah was born, leading former British Airways pilot Simon Hardy to suggest Shah was taking one last look at the island of his birth before destroying the plane. Shah’s family vehemently denies that the plane disappeared as a result of pilot suicide.
Shot Down - UNPROVEN
It has also been suggested that the plane had been shot down. Most people who believe this lay the blame at the door of the United States, with some suggesting it was taken out by accident as part of a joint US-Thai training exercise. Others say that the plane was deliberately brought down as it was feared it was going to be used as a weapon in a 9/11-style attack on the Diego Garcia military base. No credible evidence has ever been put forward to support these or other similar theories.
Fire - UNPROVEN
A somewhat more plausible theory is that a fire in the cockpit, in the cargo hold or elsewhere on the vehicle brought the plane down. Examples of previous fires were given to support this claim, such as the one which consumed EgyptAir Flight 667, destroying the Boeing 777 while it was on the ground, and Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 which caught fire shortly after takeoff.
Cyberattack – DEBUNKED
Sally Leivesley, a former scientific advisor to the British government, suggested that the plane may have been downed by a cyberattack. Boeing was quick to dismiss the theory, stating that they were confident in their critical flight system security measures and that a hacker was highly unlikely to overcome them.
Wild Theories – DEBUNKED
Whenever a tragedy occurs, some people reach for the most outlandish theories they can think of. MH370 was no exception, with suggestions ranging from the plane being sucked into another universe by a black hole to it being abducted by aliens. As per usual, there is no evidence to support these theories.
Until the wreck of MH370 is found, speculation will continue as to the real reason why it and the 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard disappeared in 2014.