9 things you should know about the missing Malaysian Flight MH370

Published: March 12, 2014

This isn't the first time such disappearances have taken place. PHOTO: REUTERS

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has proven to be an absolute mystery with more questions than answers.

The Boeing 777 plane, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 00:41 local time on March 8. Its transponder’s signal was lost to air traffic control at 1:22 local time while still over the sea in the Gulf of Thailand; barely 40 minutes into its flight to Beijing, China.

If there was one thing which was immediately clear, it was that Flight 370 had gone through a catastrophic event at 1:22 when its transponder stopped signalling. You see, this device which emits identifying signals has several fail-safes in place and it would be nearly impossible for a plane’s transponder to suddenly die save for a plane crash, or a deliberate deactivation from someone on board.

They say that it is nearly impossible for anyone to survive a plane crash into the water. But it is those moments in between the uneventful flight and the crash that are so chilling to think about. One instant, you are travelling safely inside the plane, seated with your feet firmly planted on the plane’s floor, and the next, you are heading downwards fast. Here, as you agonisingly face your final thoughts, you await death in the complete and utter darkness of the cold ocean.

What goes through your mind?

Do you feel sorrow that your loved ones will have to live through the rest of their lives bearing your loss?

Do you wonder if your family will get a chance to bury you?

Do you hope that those who depend on you will be able to survive without you?

I suppose it is this lack of closure that frightens me the most about dying in a plane crash.

Hearing the mournful cries from the grieving relatives of the missing passengers at the Malaysia Airlines press conferences has been heart-breaking. I also feel sorry for Malaysia Airlines, who under pressure from the Chinese government, are in an impossible situation.

However, new facts have come to light which provide the slightest glimmer of hope that the plane may be found soon. That being said, some of these new facts add to the confusion, and deepen the mystery of MH370.

Here are nine things you should know:

1) Search teams were looking in the wrong place for five days

The latest news from CNN comes from a senior source in the Malaysian Air Force, who speaking under anonymity, says that the plane was tracked through secondary radar to a tiny island in the Strait of Malacca.

As you can see from this map available on CNN’s website, the Strait of Malacca is a narrow stretch of water between Indonesia and Malaysia. It seems evident that Flight MH370 travelled on course until it was near Vietnamese airspace, where its transponder stopped working and the plane turned around. Curiously, the aircraft didn’t head back to the Malaysian airport from which it took flight. Of course, the mistake that everyone made was to assume that the plane had crashed at the point where its transponder stopped signalling.

Source: CNN

2) Nothing from MH370 found so far

Although it has been several days since the exhaustive multinational search began, not one piece of the plane has been found on the ocean. This is highly unusual, especially if the plane disintegrated in the air, as the debris from such an event would have been found floating. The debris and the oil slick that was discovered in the Gulf of Thailand did not come from MH370.

Of course, the search efforts were concentrated in the area where the flight’s transponder went offline, and we now know that the last known location of the Malaysian airliner was very far from these coordinates. This would also explain why a signal from the so called black box, which records flight data and conversations within the cockpit, has not been detected. As many of you may know, the black box releases location signals for 30 days even after falling into the ocean.

3) Electrical failure is a distinct possibility

This is my favourite theory as to why the transponder suddenly stopped working. Experts say that in the event of an electrical failure on the Boeing, the primary communication systems stop responding. They also say that in case of such a failure, the plane does have enough backup power for the pilot to fly for another hour or so.

After MH370’s transponder went offline, its last detection by radar was, eerily enough, an hour after. This plays into the theory that MH370 was surviving on backup power.

4) The electrical failure theory answers other questions

Why did MH370 not make an emergency landing in Vietnam? Well, without their communication systems, they would have been unable to inform Vietnam traffic control that they were entering their airspace, and as a result would have painted themselves as an enemy aircraft. Facing such a catastrophic situation, it is likely that the well-regarded senior pilot of MH370 decided to return to familiar territory.

5) The pilots of MH370 are being investigated for psychological issues

The other theory is that the pilots of the plane simply turned off the transponder, which is a simple task, and took the plane’s passengers to the bottom of the ocean with murderous intent.

The Guardian reports that MH370’s 27-year-old first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, in 2011 invited two young South African girls into the cabin for the entirety of the flight, where the young pilot flirted with them and behaved against regulations.

Jonti Roos, one of the passengers invited into the cabin, says the encounter was quite ‘sleazy’,

“At one stage, they were pretty much turned around the whole time in their seats talking to us. They were so engaged in conversation that he (Hamid) took my friend’s hand, and he was looking at her palm and said, ‘Your hand is very creased, that means you’re a very creative person’, and commented on her nail polish.”

But although Malaysia Airlines is considering the angle, I find it an unlikely scenario that the pilots turned off the transponder with malicious intent, since they continued to fly the plane for another hour.

That being said, there have been some incidents where pilots have had psychotic breaks. The most recent one is that of EgyptAir Flight 990, which, in 1999, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 217 people. Investigation later suggested that the first officer had deliberately crashed the plane into the ocean.

The recovered cockpit voice recorder revealed that while the captain was in the lavatory, the officer in question sabotaged the plane. When the captain returned, he was shocked and demanded of the officer,

“What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engines?”

Of course, by then it was too late. Sadly, the Egyptian authorities shamelessly tried to cover up this murder suicide in the face of all evidence.

6) The terrorism angle isn’t clear

Initially, it was said that the two Iranian young men who had purchased stolen passports to travel on MH370 were possible terror suspects. However, Interpol went on record with the information that these two suspects were simply looking for means to travel to Europe and were most probably not terrorists.

Confusingly, although these two young men were from Iran, a Malaysian Aviation official went on record during a press conference with claims that the fake passport holders looked like footballer Mario Balotelli, who is of Ghanaian descent. Later, the Civil Aviation chief confirmed that the fake passport holders were African and not Asian looking.

This begs the question – were there other suspect passengers aside from these two Iranian men who were described so distastefully as Balotelli lookalikes? If so, were they responsible for hijacking the plane? And if MH370 was hijacked, why hasn’t any organisation taken responsibility?

7) Boeing planes have had a history of electrical problems

Here is the frightening bit. The Boeing 787 has had numerous electrical issues stemming from its batteries. One plane suffered from an electrical fire, and some incidents have been dangerous enough to force emergency landings. It may very well be that the MH370 also suffered from similar issues.

8) The Malaysia government has been found wanting

It makes absolutely no sense why MH370 was allowed to silently fly off course over Malaysia without raising alarm bells. Such an incident, taking place in Europe or North America, would have seen Air Force fighter jets flying to conduct an escort. Moreover, why did it take the Malaysian government five days to report the change in direction?

9) Planes have done vanishing acts before

In 2009, Air France Flight 447 tragically crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing everyone on board. It took authorities five whole days to find wreckage, and until then, the media had been rife with speculation similar to the theories that surround the MH370 incident. The black box, which was finally recovered two years later, revealed that the plane had crashed due to pilot error after a temporary malfunction.

Of course, the incidents in the so called Bermuda Triangle are well-documented, where not only planes disappeared, but planes searching for them disappeared as well without a trace!

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

A freelance writer and regular contributor to The Express Tribune magazine and newspaper, Noman tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Alien abduction?Recommend

  • Aly Sakhi

    countries equipped with advanced and sophisticated technology , satellite live feeds and above all the plan equipped with indestructible devices which can emit signals even under water .. all seems helplessRecommend

  • fze

    Disappearance of Malaysian plane is a sensitive issue. Lets not dwell over it in a speculative manner lest we tread over soft feet. May Allah keep everyone under His kind care and no one has to suffer like the unfortunate passengers and their relatives did.Recommend

  • cl

    bermuda triangle? alien abduction? hijacked? Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I did. Read my review in Images this weekend or the next!Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    I’ve been a huge fan of Agent Fox Mulder (X Files series), “I want to believe”.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Thanks for your feedback. My writing on the electrical failure comes from the one engineers who commented on TV. I also consulted a friend in aviation. Finally, the electrical failure theory comes from a Boeing engineer and insurance expert who gave the theory about backup power.

    Honestly, I could be wrong and so could the experts. These days they bring anyone on TV. That being said, I am not sure if you are right either, so am keeping an open mind.

    No, of course the flight doesn’t require electricity to be detected by radar. Radars on ground function independent of what happens on a plane. That being said, a radar has detected the plane going off track. If this plane crashed then it was an unidentified plane.

    Finally, the plane was not in the radius of any airport radar.

    As for your fuselage theory, I agree. This may very well be true. I believe a warning was issued by the FAA?Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Steven Wallace, former FAA investigator says pieces shown on Chinese satellite are too large to be debris. He believes this isn’t it.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    … and the plot thickens.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    … and the plot thickens.Recommend

  • Pappu

    Interestingly no one is talking about involvement of “super natural”, Allah’s Will, involvement of Jinns, Qiyamat ki Nishani, kaala Jaadu etc ( all mentioned in their holy books). No one wants to do” Istakhara”, find solution from quran, consult Najumi, take guidance from “Piir Sahab”, or go to Data Darbar for further information!!Recommend

  • Pappu

    Interestingly no one is talking about involvement of “super natural”, Allah’s Will, involvement of Jinns, Qiyamat ki Nishani, kaala Jaadu etc ( all mentioned in their holy books). No one wants to do” Istakhara”, find solution from quran, consult Najumi, take guidance from “Piir Sahab”, or go to Data Darbar for further information!!Recommend

  • Simon Varughese

    may be one of the nations conducting test on EMP (NEMP or NNEMP) can give a better answer???Recommend

  • Simon Varughese

    may be one of the nations conducting test on EMP (NEMP or NNEMP) can give a better answer???Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Indeed, an interesting observation, my friend. However, as per some ‘conspiracy theories’ by ancient historians, these so call “super natural” beings were an advanced alien race, so, we have that base covered indirectly.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Indeed, an interesting observation, my friend. However, as per some ‘conspiracy theories’ by ancient historians, these so call “super natural” beings were an advanced alien race, so, we have that base covered indirectly.Recommend

  • Nouman

    I think You forgot about Flight PK404 which vanished on 25 Aug 1989 with 54 People on Board in Hamaliyan Mountains (Coming to Islamabad from Gilgit) and still not foundRecommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Hmmm all fingures seem to be pointing to the Malaysian Government in some or the other way . They surely have truckloads to ‘explain’. surely something is ‘ amiss ‘ here.Recommend

  • Shea

    How can a plane just go missing . That puzzles me a lot.
    especially with technology these days. Doesn’t make any sense . Recommend

  • Christopher

    Officials needs to check the last 12 months whether any bought any transponder. Because the next time they need to fly, no one will know its mh370. To me, I also feel that the plane is hijacked. Pirates hijacking ships is no longer easy I guess, so the mastermind decide to go for airplane. So to play safe, they need to also capture an experience pilot, which this captain is, to land in a small unuse airport. So for now I guess they are getting all the details and contacts of the passengers relatives and maybe after two weeks, the will ask for the ransom money. If the plane goes into the sea, you can see things floating, but none. If it crashes in the land, we can see fire or smoke, but none. High chances, hijack. Let’s all pray that try are safe and fine.Recommend

  • Jaco Pieterse

    Here is a theory that explains a couple of things: http://mm4me.biz/Recommend

  • Paul

    What is the relevance of point 7? MH370 was a Boeing 777, not 787. The model has a near perfect track record.Recommend

  • Christopher

    Close to what I’m thinking. Now then they start looking on land also. Hope that they are not tortured but safe and fine and in good health.Recommend

  • Dyna

    The Malaysian government are sending everyone on a wild goose chase all over the world when in fact they know exactly what happened to the plane and it’s passengers. Based on a Chinese article circulating in the web, CNN broadcasted this on 3/13/14 about what actually happened.

    In the article it states, Yes, the plane did have a communication malfunction. The veteran pilot, who was very familiar with the route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, knew that there was a airbase close by and tried to land there to get repairs done. But what he didn’t know was that the airbase was guarded by the Malaysian Military! And with the pilot not being able to communicate to the airbase, the airbase considered the plane as a threat so they had to shot the plane down as it was trying to land! It was only when the plane was shot down that they realized that they made a huge mistake and now they are trying to cover their tracks. This is why the Malaysian government did not want to cooperate in the beginning, and when they did they provided all kinds of misleading information about the pilots, the passengers, hijackings etc. According to this article, CNN also immediately stopped airing the story as soon as it came on and has not been brought up since. Probably in fear that there will be some sort of retaliation from the Chinese government.

    This could all be speculation though as I’m not sure how credible the source is. But it definitely seems way more plausible than to say that the plane just “went missing”. I mean seriously, in this day and age, how do lose a Boeing 777 with 239 passengers? Just seems like a Big Cover Up more than anything else….Recommend