Red herrings steer search for Flight MH370 off course

March 17, 2014 6:49PM ET

Early possible clues and explanations, including oil slicks, wreckage and battery failure, haven't helped find the plane

Flight MH370
The search for the missing flight has broadened, from Kazakhstan to Australia
How Foo Yeen/Getty Images

Seemingly promising clues that led nowhere have distracted authorities in their search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, while far-fetched conspiracies – ranging from prophecies that predicted a crash to a meteor hitting the plane – have highlighted the public's fascination with finding the aircraft and learning what went wrong.

Al Jazeera recaps the more plausible red herrings.

The oil slick

A 12-mile oil slick was reported between Malaysia and Vietnam in the general area of the flight's scheduled route to Beijing. However, chemical tests on the oil ruled out jet fuel. The oil slick was later blamed on a barge operating at sea.

Stolen passports

The two stolen-passport suspects.
Azhar Rahim/EPA

Two passengers on the China-bound flight checked in using stolen passports. Although a connection between the missing flight and the stolen passports hasn't been ruled out, there is no evidence that the two passengers were involved in the disappearance. Much fuss was raised over the lax security measures that allowed the passports to be used without being checked against Interpol's database.

In plain sight?

Although there have been numerous so-called sightings of the missing plane, none have turned up anything substantial. A New Zealander working on an oil rig in southeast Vietnam said he saw the plane coming down in flames, and others say they saw Flight MH370 as it flew over the island of Pulau Perak — hundreds of miles northwest of Kuala Lumpur.

China spies alleged wreckage

A satellite image showing possible plane debris.

Six days after the mysterious disappearance of Flight MH370, China announced that three of its satellites had captured images of what could possibly be wreckage from a plane crash. Searchers scrambled to the scene to explore the area, but found no debris or sign of the missing aircraft.

The 'seafloor event'

According to Chinese researchers, a little over an hour after Flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur, a "seafloor event" was detected in a normally non-seismic area between Malaysia and Vietnam. The "catastrophic" plunge that could have triggered such seismic activity turned out to be unrelated to the missing flight.

Battery problems

MH370 before its final flight.
Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Lithium batteries, which have been blamed on plane crashes in the past, have also been suggested as a possible explanation for the disappearance of the flight. However, that theory has been discredited, as it doesn’t explain why no contact was made with ground control, or why the plane turned away instead of returning to its airport of origin.

All the way to Kazakhstan?

Flight MH370 reportedly had enough fuel to continue flying for hours — leading authorities to question if it could have flown way off course over the Central Asian nation of Kazahstan. The Kazakh Civil Aviation Committee refuted this, saying the flight would have been detected if it entered its airspace. However, investigators have yet to rule out the possibility.


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