Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Now we know the plane came down and hopes are extinguished, what task will be ahead?


Travel Correspondent

Investigations into aviation disasters are based on previous calamities, looking closely at similar losses to created hypotheses about the cause. In the past decade, there have been crashes with which MH370 shares some elements: in 2005, a Helios jet flew on across Greece on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed, and in 2009 a large Air France aircraft was lost in the ocean, mid-cruise. But the circumstances of the Malaysia Airlines plane are so far beyond the experience of the aviation community that the search for clues becomes all the more critical.

As the relatives of the people aboard the lost Boeing 777 learned that their hopes had been extinguished, tangible evidence of the lost aircraft remained elusive. Military and civil aircraft continue to sweep the ocean west of Australia, with ships moving towards the search zone.

The search for traces of Air France flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic between Rio and Paris, was challenging – but MH370 is an order of magnitude more challenging. The distance from the shore is much greater, the sea conditions much heavier and the clues about possible locations much less certain. 

A United Nations of ships, aircraft and satellites are focusing on the area: military aircraft and executive jets from Australia, a wide-bodied plane from China, naval vessels from Australia and the US Pacific Fleet as well as a Chinese icebreaker and European merchant shipping. Those are the assets we know about; they may be supplemented with intelligence from submarines, if that can be achieved without revealing the location of the clandestine vessels and their sophisticated instruments.


Once a fragment of debris is found, whether a seat cushion or a fragment of cargo, the search area can be narrowed down. While that goes on, the debris will be minutely examined for clues about the loss. When the crash site is finally located, the recovery of the remains of the aircraft – and the 239 people on board – can begin.

The recovery teams will home in on the flight data recorder, which keeps details of commands from the flight deck, and the cockpit voice recorder. The latter, though, may not yield many clues since it has only a two-hour capacity, and therefore cannot reveal what happened over the Gulf of Thailand.


While the search gains intensity, so too do the theories about the cause. While some early speculation – that MH370 was shot down by a missile, or downed by a terrorist bomb – have been ruled out, conjecture is rife about the possible reason for an abrupt change of course.

One of the leading theories is that a fire broke out, and the crew responded by turning the aircraft in a bid to reach the nearest landing strip. If they were then incapacitated before broadcasting a Mayday message, the cabin crew would be unable to access the flight deck due to the locked cockpit door. Yet the fire would then need to have extinguished itself, rather than downing the aircraft.

Others point to the presumed course of the plane, which looks as though it could have been designed to minimise the chance of detection.

Yet if a human hand was involved, and passengers became aware of a sinister development, some would presumably switch on their mobile phones – a few of which would be expected to register on networks, even while briefly flying over the Malayan peninsula.

While the search continues, the mystery of MH370 is becoming to the early 21st century what the JFK assassination was to the 20th century.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

    Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

    But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
    Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

    Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

    Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

    Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

    Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

    England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

    In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)