Journey to nowhere: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

by @benpiven @DexterMullins March 19, 2014 5:00PM ET

Map-timeline shows what we know about when and where the missing Boeing 777 aircraft deviated from its route to Beijing

Flight MH370
Artwork conveying well-wishes for the passengers and crew of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at a viewing gallery in Kuala Lumpur's international airport.
Edgar Su/Reuters

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed at a press conference on March 24 that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard, crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

"MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing site," he said. "It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean."

To confirm the plane’s final location, Inmarsat, the U.K. company whose satellite first suggested the two possible paths that the plane took, worked with the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) to perform a detailed analysis of the data, using a method that had never been used in an investigation of this scale.

The search was intensified in the southern region after a French satellite detected possible debris from the missing aircraft on Sunday in the same area identified by Australian and Chinese satellites last week.

The broadest contours of the search, over an unprecedented 2.57 million square miles, have reached from Central Asia to the border of Antarctica. But the focus has since narrowed.

Officials believe the plane is most likely in the lower end of the southern search zone. That view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane entered their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches of the upper part of the southern corridor.

Since more than two-thirds of the passengers were from China, Beijing has been highly critical of the handling of the situation by Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein.

Endless conspiracy theories have been cited by global news media, but scenarios involving "terrorist" motives (allegedly Iranian, Uyghur or Al-Qaeda involvement) seem to have been discredited by U.S., Chinese and other officials.

With the plane and black box still not recovered, possible explanations for what actually happened to the flight include two ideas that point to what might have been going on inside the cockpit:

  • Fire on plane - This scenario involves a possible blaze that engulfed the front landing gear tire and then filled the cabin with smoke. The captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, or co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, would have immediately rerouted the plane to the nearest airport (Pulau Langkawi) by turning left, plotting a direct course for an emergency landing. But excessive smoke could have rendered the pilots unconscious, with no one to land the plane. It may have continued flying until either burning up or running out of fuel.
  • Pilot sabotage - Another hypothetical scenario hinges on intentional wrongdoing by members of the flight crew. There is an ongoing investigation into potential motives behind an intentional change in course by the pilots. This reasoning is fed by suspicion that key routes were deleted from the flight simulator in Zaharie's home. One tangential version of this theory involves reports that Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, convicted on controversial charges of sodomy just hours before the plane disappeared, is a distant relative of the pilot. Initially, Ibrahim was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying he did not know Zaharie personally. But he later admitted on March 18 that he had met Zaharie several times, and that Zaharie was related to his son-in-law. Zaharie is known to be a supporter of Ibrahim's political party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat. The likelihood of foul play emerging from internal Malaysian political intrigue is speculative, and this explanation could follow in the footsteps of the discredited "red herrings" described in the article below.