Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Confirmation that the plane went down leaves many questions unanswered.

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The missing Malaysia 9M-MRO aircraft
Photo Credit: Laurent ERRERA

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On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 lost contact en route to Beijing, China. With 239 people on board, the plane disappeared between. For days, rescue crews searched for the plane and investigators hunted for clues about what happened. Finally, on March 24, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that satellite data confirmed that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, a remote location far off course. Many questions remained unanswered, including why the plane ended up where it did and why it went down.

Inmarsat, a British company, analyzed satellite data and the plane's flight path and determined the area where the plane went down. An Australian Air Force plane reported seeing "a grey or green circular object" and "an orange rectangular object" in the area, but the Australian government did not confirm that the debris was from the missing plane. The search for the plane will continue.

Before the announcement, theories abounded about what happened to the plane. They included pilot suicide, engine failure, or some other kind of structural failure that would cause the plane to break apart. Here's a look at some of the theories.

Act of Piracy

It might have seemed like the plot of a movie at first: stealing an airplane out of midair, but the more this theory was discussed, the more people started to believe it was possible. Even experts said that while it was improbable, it was not impossible for a skilled pilot to avoid radar. However, a mile long runway would be needed as well as a hanger big enough to conceal the plane. Considering the other variables—the pilot would probably have to land the plane in the dark and the plane would have to remain out of sight at all times—this theory was improbable at best.

Mid-Air Explosion

Since no debris had been found, one widespread theory was that the plane exploded in mid-air. A bomb on board could have caused the explosion, creating pieces of wreckage that would be too small to detect in the sea. Investigators admitted that this theory was possible, but have not found any evidence of foul play, such as a bomb on board, or mechanical failure.

Caught Fire

One of the most shared theories online was pilot Chris Goodfellow's post on Google+. His theory was that a fire caused the cockpit to fill with smoke, and the pilots turned the plane around to find the nearest airport. A fire also explains why the transponders were shut down—the pilots turned off the electrical systems to find the source of the fire. Goodfellow concluded that the crew could have died on board from the fire and then the plane flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

Military Accidentally Shot Down Plane

On July 3, 1988, the U.S. Navy accidentally shot down an Iranian civilian passenger flight over the Persian Gulf after mistaking it for an attacking jet flight, killing 290 people. Citing that incident, there has been speculation that Flight 370 was shot down accidently by the military from another country. The theory was that the civilian aircraft had not been recognized, especially if it had gone off course, and was fired at.

Hid in Second Plane's Shadow

Pilot Keith Ledgerwood posted a theory on a blog that also received a lot of attention in the days after Flight 370 disappeared. Ledgerwood suggested that the plane flew either above or beneath a Singapore Airlines flight going in the same direction at the same time. Ledgerwood believed the plane would want to shadow another one in order to fly undetected. Anyone tracking or seeing either one of the planes would believe it was the Singapore Airlines plane since transponders on Flight 370 had been turned off. Ledgerwood concluded that Flight 370 flew in the Singapore Airlines plane's shadow over India before landing near Afghanistan or Pakistan.


Another popular theory was that depressurization occurred either due to an air leak or the plane flying too high. Depressurization could have overtaken everyone on board, causing them to fall asleep and then die from lack of oxygen.

The longer the search continues for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the more people will look to and offer theories. Even musician Courtney Love offered her theory via twitter, which went viral with several media outlets covering it. With 239 people uncounted for and their families kept waiting for news, it's easy to see why so many people want to search for a theory, an answer to what happened to Flight 370.

by Jennie Wood

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