Malaysian officials have confirmed that although the search for missing flight MH370 will continue, the disappearance of the aircraft has been labelled an “accident”, effectively drawing a line in the sand over speculation.
But for those fascinated by the mysterious disappearance of the plane, this means that there are many things we will – probably – never know.
1. Where is the plane now?
Obviously, this is the million-pound question. And one which Malaysian authorities have seemingly admitted they may never find. Although they had stressed that searching for the missing aircraft will remain a “top priority” – approaching a year after the plane’s disappearance, hope is fading.
The most recent searches have focused on a swath of ocean off the western coast of Australia. Despite the use of sophisticated sonar equipment, and aid from governments including China, nothing conclusive has turned up.
2. Why were the plane’s communications systems disabled?
MH370’s transponder, which communicates with the ground, was shut down as the plane travelled from Malaysian air traffic control to Vietnamese controlled airspace.
There does not appear to be any rational explanation for this, with some aviation experts labelling the pilot’s decision to do so “extraordinary”. Fingers have been pointed towards malicious intent, either on the behalf of the pilots or of an unknown ‘outside’ player in the scenario.
Realistically, it is impossible to know and with the continued absence of the plane’s black box we will probably never know the final moments in the cockpit.
3. Why was the plane’s disappearance not spotted immediately?
As mentioned, the plane’s was shut down during the flight, but this appears to have gone unnoticed until much later.
One possible reason for this is simply human error – Malaysian air control would have handed over to their Vietnamese counterparts and simply forgotten about it.
4. Why did the plane make a sharp left turn?
Conspiracy theories abound on this question. Military logs show the plane turned west, deviating from its planned flight path, shortly after the plane’s transponder had been switched off and the last ACARS (the system used to communicate with the ground) datalink transmission had been sent.
One theory, suggested by aviation blogger Chris Goodfellow, claims that the sharp left turn came after the aircraft’s communications were knocked out in some kind of catastrophe.
In pictures: Theories that could explain what happened to MH370
In pictures: Theories that could explain what happened to MH370
1/10 Shot down in a military training exercise
While the Australian officials leading the search for MH370 say they remain “absolutely convinced” it ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, some passengers’ families – and theorists – distrust the unprecedented satellite data analysis involved. Among those who support this view are the British journalist and author Nigel Cawthorne, who has controversially already published the first book on the plane’s disappearance. e supports one theory, based on the eye-witness testimony of New Zealand oil rig worker Mike McKay, that the plane was shot down shortly after it stopped communicating with air traffic controllers. At the time there was a series of war games taking place in the South China Sea involving Thailand, the US and personnel from China, Japan, Indonesia and others, and Cawthorne has linked this to Mr McKay’s claims to have seen a burning plane going down in the Gulf of Thailand.
2/10 Stolen by Putin
Jeff Wise, a private pilot and science writer, claims he has evidence that the plane made its way to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which is run by Russia as its largest space launch facility. He claims Vladimir Putin ordered Russian special forces to hijack MH370 and fly it to the spaceport, but admits he has 'no idea' why the Russian president would want to do such a thing
3/10 Flown north and shot down deliberately, prompting cover-up
At a stage in the investigation when it was believed the plane could have flown for some time from where it disappeared along either a northern or southern corridor, many posted on forums suggesting that if it had been the former we would never hear about what happened. Some still support this view, and former RAF navigator Sean Maffett told the BBC that after 9/11, any unidentified airliner entering the airspace of another country would lead to fighter jets being scrambled. “If the plane is in the northern arc it could easily have been shot down,” he said. This theory also involves a national – or possibly international – cover-up, based on the premise that no country would want to admit to shooting down an airliner full of passengers from all over the world.
4/10 Tried to land on a desert island beach
After reports that the plane had turned left shortly following its disappearance from civilian radar screens, speculation grew that it could have landed on a remote beach somewhere like the Andaman Islands, which lie between Indonesia and the coast of Thailand. Though CNN reported that locals dismissed the idea a Boeing 777 could land on an airstrip there undetected, the archipelago consists of hundreds of remote islands with some long stretches of sand. Former BA pilot Steve Buzdygan said it would be difficult – but not impossible – to bring a 777 down on a long deserted beach.
5/10 Landed at a US military base
One of the more outlandish conspiracy theories that has gained some traction online is the idea that MH370 could have been “captured” and flown to a military base on the UK-owned tropical atoll of Diego Garcia, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The base is run by the US, and some have reportedly said in forum postings that the Kremlin has put some credence into this possibility. Such is the strength of belief in this theory that the US government has been forced to issue a denial. A spokesperson for the US embassy in Malaysia told the local Star newspaper that there was “no indication that MH370 flew anywhere near the Maldives or Diego Garcia”. “MH370 did not land in Diego Garcia,” he added.
6/10 Headed for a remote airport in Langkawi, Malaysia
One theory, put forward by another aviation blogger named Chris Goodfellow, has it that the sudden left turn came after major catastrophe knocked out a range of the plane’s electronics, from transponders to communications equipment. In this scenario and in the middle of the night, Goodfellow argued, the pilot would redirect towards the nearest safe airport. “This pilot did all the right things,” he said. “Actually he was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000ft (4,000m) strip with an approach over water at night with no obstacles. He did not turn back to Kuala Lumpur because he knew he had 8,000ft ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier towards Langkawi and also a shorter distance.” This theory assumes that the plane was in fact controlled manually once it disappeared – and that it did not make it to Langkawi.
7/10 An explosion in the cockpit
The theory of a sudden explosion within the cockpit before the turn left could explain why there was no attempt to signal for help. Since 9/11 cockpits doors have been fortified to become extremely difficult to bypass, and such a sudden incident could perhaps have incapacitated both pilots while keeping out the rest of the crew. This explanation does not seem to tally with the claims of some Malaysian officials, however, that the change in direction was the result of “seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer”.
8/10 A struggle at altitude
Though Malaysian officials believe that the plane was deliberately diverted, and that its communications systems were turned off one after the other, a detailed background check into all 227 passengers has cleared all of suspicion. If, however, we do accept that the plane was the subject of a passenger hijacking, it remains to be explained why the hijackers did not try to do more than fly the plane into the middle of the southern Indian Ocean. One theory suggests that there was some kind of struggle for control of the plane that ultimately ended with mutual destruction. Further analysis of data by Malaysian officials suggests that the plane was flown erratically once it left civilian radar, climbing to 45,000ft before dropping very low. Buzdygan told the BBC he would resort to this sort of flying if faced with would-be hijackers. “I’d try to disorientate and confuse the hijackers by throwing them around,” he said.
9/10 Pilot suicide
As part of the ongoing criminal investigation in Malaysia, police are looking into the state of mind and possible motives of the captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid. The Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has said that “all possibilities” will be looked into, and there have been reports that Shah was going through a difficult marriage break-up.Yet such comments have been rubbished by the man’s relatives, who have described him since as a dedicated family man and model professional. Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, described Shah as a seasoned pilot with an excellent record. “There have been absolutely no implications that we are aware of that there was anything untoward in either his behaviour or attitude,” he told Reuters. “We have no reason to believe that there was anything, any actions, internally by the crew that caused the disappearance of this aircraft.”
10/10 A CIA cover-up
Finally, the former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad has waded in with his own theory – suggesting that, one way or another, the CIA is definitely hiding something. In a blog entry posted on 18 May entitled ‘Boeing Technology – What goes up must come down’, Dr Mahathir Mohamad makes ten claims including that the plane was taken over remotely by officials working for Boeing and the CIA. The plane is somewhere, maybe without MAS markings,” reads Dr Mohamad’s post on chedet. “Someone is hiding something. It is not fair that MAS and Malaysia should take the blame,” 88-year-old Dr Mahathir, who was Malaysia's prime minister between 1981 and 2003, alleges. “Airplanes don’t just disappear,” he said, concluding: “For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA. I hope my readers will read this.” Boeing have denied Dr Mohamed’s theory.
HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images
According to Mr Goodfellow, the actions of the pilot – in the situation – would be to turn towards the nearest safe airport, possibly Paulau Langwaki.
5. Was the plane hijacked?
Since 9/11 all alirlines hav fitted their cabin cockpits with reinforced ‘bulletproof’ doors designed to prevent exactly such a hijacking. Realistically, it is unlikely anyone would be able to get into the cockpit once these doors had been closed – moreover the pilots should have been able to issue a distress call had it happened.
There are times when the doors are open, which allows for the possibility of a hijack, or even if passengers had been invited into the cockpit – as the co-pilot of MH370 was shown to have done previously.
6. Did the pilots have something to do with the possible crash?
Extensive searches were carried out on both pilots’ homes and backgrounds – and turned up nothing conclusive. But there is equally nothing to disprove it.
There have been occasions when pilots are believed to have carried out suicidal thoughts: Egypt Air flight 990 (1999) and Silk Air flight 185 (1997) are both considered to be examples of this.
7. Was the entire event just a series of fluke chances and bad luck?
We love a good conspiracy but there is a chance that the flight disappearance is the result o a series of accidents, disabling parts of the plane in stages.
For example; a fire could have caused the communications to be knocked out but left the plane broadly intact. Later, there could have been gradual decompression which would have caused hypoxia, incapacitating the crew and passengers, until the crasH.
8. Would passengers have known something was happening?
It depends on what happened previously. If the events leading up to the plane’s crash were hostile, then it is fair to expect that many passengers were aware that something was wrong.
However, given the time the plane appears to have disappeared – middle of the night – there is a chance many passengers would have been asleep and would have been unaware of the events unfolding around them, especially if the possible crash was just a fluke series of accidents.
9. Did the plane crash land?
It has been estimated that the plane still had enough fuel to fly another 2,200 miles from its known location after its communication devices were turned off. This leaves a dizzyingly large area – and roughly 634 runways where it is possible for an aircraft of that size could have landed.
Other suggestions – mostly from that most verifiable of sources ‘The Internet’ – claim the flight could have landed on a deserted island somewhere. This plays into conspiracy theories suggesting the flight was hijacked and later touched down somewhere.