9 things you should know about the missing Malaysian Flight MH370

Published: March 12, 2014
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This isn't the first time such disappearances have taken place. PHOTO: REUTERS

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

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He 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.