MH370: The plane that vanished

The search for MH370 was one of the greatest surface and underwater hunts in aviation history. An Australian-led underwater search covered 120,000 sq km at an estimated cost of around A$200 million (S$202 million) before being suspended nearly three years later.

Malaysia and countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, India, China, France and the United States participated in the operations.

Areas near Vietnam in the South China Sea and near Penang in the Strait of Malacca were combed in the first days after the incident, until a week later, on March 15, when the Malaysian Prime Minister of At the time, Najib Razak revealed that the data showed the flight had changed. course and headed for the Indian Ocean.

MH370’s transponder – a transmitter in the cockpit that allows the plane to be tracked by ground radar – was disabled at some point, he said.

Based on data from UK commercial satellite company Inmarsat and the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch, the plane is presumed to have crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

For nearly three years, underwater search efforts were conducted some 2,500 km southwest of Perth. Research in the choppy waters of the vast Indian Ocean was canceled in January 2017.

The search was resumed in January 2018 by Ocean Infinity in the southern Indian Ocean, but ended in June of the same year without success.

Cockpit audio clips failed to shed any light. The pilot’s last recorded words at the control tower sounded almost prescient. Still, they were perfectly routine, aviation experts said.

The plane’s black boxes – the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder which contain information critical to the investigations – have never been found.

Dozens of pieces of debris from the plane have since washed ashore, with most appearing to support the theory that it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

The debris includes a flaperon – a section of an aircraft’s right wing that helps control speed and position – which was found on the French island of Reunion, and a panel from the right side of the tail with the words “No Step”, found in Mozambique.

When Malaysia’s report on MH370 was released in July 2018, lead investigator Kok Soo Chon said the safety investigation team ruled out the possibility that the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, caused the disappearance of the plane.

They said the plane’s controls were likely deliberately manipulated, but they could not say who was responsible.

The report’s conclusion stated, “The team is unable to determine the true cause of the disappearance of MH370.”

Theories

Over the years, the theories that have surfaced about what could have happened to the MH370 range from the plausible to the ridiculous.

They include a hijacking attempt, a suicide attempt, a system malfunction, and even an alien abduction.

Some theories link the disappearance to Diego Garcia, a militarized island in the Indian Ocean that is British territory and home to a major US naval base.

Others say a deadly combination of the plane’s large cargoes of mangosteens and lithium-ion batteries could have caused an explosion.

Another theory is that a catastrophic malfunction of the oxygen supply could have knocked out everyone on board and so there would have been no distress call.

Even during the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, passengers made phone calls when they realized the plane had been hijacked.

A pilot told the Straits Times on condition of anonymity that the oxygen malfunction theory could explain why the flight changed course and headed for Penang instead.

Its pilot could have tried to make an emergency landing at Penang Airport, the nearest major airport that was still open at the time, but failed.

The plane could then have continued towards the Indian Ocean with everyone on board incapacitated, until it ran out of fuel, he said.

French journalist Florence De Changy posits in her book, The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case Of MH370, that the plane was shot down over the South China Sea, its remains cleaned up, and the truth concealed by intelligence authorities .

Ms De Changy, a Hong Kong-based foreign correspondent for French newspaper Le Monde, said flight MH370 was carrying a shipment of electronic warfare equipment and was shot down in a botched operation to recover the cargo.