It’s one of aviation’s greatest mysteries. On March 8, 2014, an everyday commercial aircraft took off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing only to vanish off radar screens. So, did they ever find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? And if not, what are the prominent theories surrounding its disappearance?
It’s the subject of Netflix’s MH 370: The Plane That Disappeared documentary, which debuted nine years after the Boeing 777 seemingly dropped off the face of the earth with 12 crew members and 227 passengers onboard. A multi-national investigation into the incident was launched and the streaming giant interviewed aviation journalists and online sleuths to deliver their opinions.
Did they ever find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? The bulk of the plane’s hull has never been found but pieces of debris that washed up on an Australian beach in October 2020 were believed to be pieces of MH370. Parts of the wreckage have also been found on African coastlines and Islands in the Indian Ocean. In January 2023, British aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey completed an analysis of such debris and confirmed it to be pieces of the missing plane.
“The location of where the piece of debris was found in Antsiraka Beach in Madagascar, where a total of 20 items of floating debris from MH370 have been found in Madagascar and 4 on the same Antsiraka Beach, confirms the likelihood that this new item of floating debris is also from MH370. Out of the items washed ashore in Madagascar and officially analyzed, six items have been determined to be almost certain, highly likely or likely from MH370 by the authorities,” he said per Airline Ratings.com.
“Considering that MH370 (aircraft registered as 9M-MRO) ended its flight in the South Indian Ocean, the location of this recent find is consistent with the drift path modeling produced by the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This suggests that the part is likely from MH370 given that the likelihood of it originating from another source is quite remote.”
What happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? Unfortunately, it’s likely we’ll never know for sure. The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am local time and around three minutes later, it lost all contact with traffic control. Officials say the plane’s transponder was turned off over the South China Sea. The last voice contact was at 1:19 am Malaysian time and at 2:22 am, about 230 miles from Penang, it disappeared.
Cyndi Hendry, who worked for Tomnod, a satellite imagery company, says in the Netflix series that she was randomly assigned satellite imagery by Tomnod. ‘The satellite images were empty. It was just the blackness of the sea. Then you press next, more black scans. So much black. And then finally, there’s something white,” she said.
In the Netflix documentary, there are three prevailing theories. The first, and a theory held by the then-Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott, was that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah committed a mass-murder suicide by taking the plane down into the Indian Ocean. (Australia led the hunt for the missing jet but ended it in 2017 after it proved unsuccessful.)
“Good night, Malaysia 370,” Shah told air traffic controllers as they ready to relay communications duties to the Vietnamese. Those were his final words before the plane lost all radar contact less than two minutes later. The docu-series takes another look at the evidence found on Shah’s computer in 2016, which showed that he’d done a simulation of the plane’s suspected flight path a mere month before MH370 took off. It’s not exactly a smoking gun, though.
“It’s very odd you would have a simulation end with fuel exhaustion in the Southern Indian Ocean,” Mike Exner of Independent Group, a watchdog of aviation experts that was established to figure out the flight’s final moments, admitted to the New York Post in March 2023. “I don’t think taking the simulator data by itself proves a whole lot … The simulator data is not the whole puzzle, it’s just one piece in the puzzle that fits.”
Aviation journalist Jeff Wise, whose theories on the missing flight were considered controversial among experts, said the Shah suicide theory would require an “aggressive and sophisticated” plot to overpower and lock his co-pilot out of the cockpit and cut radar communications. The final report on MH370 found that “there is no evidence to suggest any recent behavioral changes for the [pilot].”
The second theory is that Russian hijackers took control of the plane. Journalist Jeff Wise suggested in the Netflix show that three Russian passengers were seated close to an electrical hatch and managed to create a distraction so that they could take over the plane. Malaysia Airlines’ former crisis director, Fuad Sharuji, doesn’t see the theory as credible. “Anyone who gets into the hatch can disable the transponder and disable the communications systems,” Sharuji said. “But it is impossible to fly the aircraft from the avionics compartment.”
The final theory is that the United States had something to do with the tragedy but obviously, it’s just a theory. The plane was apparently carrying a huge amount of electronics and the idea is that the American military shot it down in a bid to seize the equipment which was bound for China—a diplomatic rival. French journalist Florence de Changy says MH370 had 2.5 tons of electronic devices on board. “It’s public knowledge that China was very eager to acquire highly sensitive US technology in the field of surveillance, stealth, drone technology,” she said. “This could be at the heart of what happened to MH370.”
Harry Hewland, the producer of the Netflix documentary on MH370, says, “More than anything, we want to pull the hidden truths about MH370 out from the carpet under which they’ve been swept, and remind people that this is still a story with no ending, a mystery that hasn’t been solved, that somebody out there knows more than the world has been told.”
MH370: The Plane That Disappeared is available to stream on Netflix.
Richard Quest, CNN’s Aviation Correspondent, was one of the leading journalists covering the story. In a coincidence, Quest had interviewed one of the two pilots a few weeks before the disappearance. It is here that he begins his gripping account of those tense weeks in March, presenting a fascinating chronicle of an international search effort, which despite years of searching and tens of millions of dollars spent has failed to find the plane.
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