The greatest mystery in aviation history has been declared an accident - even though the fate of the Malaysian jet that went missing in March with 239 people on board is still unknown.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said: “We officially declare Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 an accident.” He was speaking in Kuala Lumpur, where the Boeing 777 began its final journey. The aircraft with 227 passengers and 10 crew on board disappeared in the early hours of 8 March last year, on a routine flight to Beijing.
The jet was initially presumed to have been lost in the South China Sea. But ground-breaking analysis of automated “pings” from the aircraft have led investigators to conclude it crashed in the Indian Ocean west of Australia after running out of fuel.
Mr Rahman said he was making the declaration “with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow.”
“We have endeavoured and pursued every credible lead and reviewed all available data. Despite all these efforts over the last 327 days, the search unfortunately has yet to yield the location of the missing aircraft.”
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
He described the area where the aircraft is thought to be lost as “a remote location, far from any possible landing sites… with adverse sea conditions with known depths of more than 6,000 metres”. He concluded: “Survivability in the defined area is highly unlikely.”
The definition of the disappearance as an “accident” has caused some consternation in the aviation community. Many safety experts believe the flight was deliberately diverted, with the transponder - transmitting the plane’s identity - turned off to avoid detection.
But the declaration is a necessary legal step to enable relatives of the victims to claim compensation from the airline. Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, which governs pay-outs when planes are lost, stipulates: “The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft.” Under a separate aviation treaty, the Chicago Convention, the term “accident” includes cases where the aircraft is missing.
The Malaysian government has set up a website to help relatives pursue claims. Most of the passengers were Chinese, and there has been widespread criticism in the People’s Republic at how the loss has been handled. Around two dozen relatives protested at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing against the official declaration, apparently in the mistaken belief that the search for their loved ones was to be called off.
Mr Rahman said: “We have never wavered in our commitment to continue our efforts to find MH370 and bring closure for everyone, most of all for the families of the passengers and crew. This declaration is by no means the end.”
Australian safety authorities are conducting a systematic search of the seabed in the area of the Indian Ocean thought most likely to contain the plane. The project began in the autumn and is expected to take up to a year.
Meanwhile, Indonesian safety officials investigating the loss of the AirAsia jet on 28 December say they believe the first officer was at the controls when it crashed. All 162 people on board died on the Airbus A320, which was flying from Surabaya to Singapore.
Marjono Siswosuwarno, the chief investigator of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, said that the cockpit voice recording indicated that the French co-pilot, Remi Emmanuel Plesel, was flying the plane. He revealed that the audible stall warning sounded for four minutes until the end of the recording. He said that flight data indicated that the aircraft was climbing at an unsustainable rate before it began its final descent.Reuse content