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Flight MH370 disappeared five years ago. What is known about the most mysterious plane crash in the world

On the night of March 8, 2014, an event occurred that is difficult to imagine even now, five years later. Boeing 777-200ER Malaysia Airlines with 239 people on board flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Thirty minutes later, the plane becomes an unidentified object for radar. The liner changes direction and flies somewhere in the south of the Indian Ocean for about seven hours. Then, presumably, the plane runs out of fuel and it falls into the water. All passengers and crew are presumed dead. Still not found neither the body nor the liner itself. Why the plane deviated from the course and what really happened is still unknown. In search of the liner spent  $ 200 million. The result is only a few bags and debris that were discovered by chance. 

Airplane №404

Boeing model 777 turned out successful in all respects. There is still stable demand for the aircraft (a new generation with folding wings is preparing for release ), the liner is extremely reliable – the first serious incident with human victims occurred in 2013, 18 years after the start of operation. The aircraft Asiana Airlines due to crew error hit the mound in front of the strip at the airport in San Francisco. The liner caught fire, but almost all survived – out of 307 people on board, three died.

Terrible coincidence: the missing Boeing 777 was the 404th model released. The value of these numbers is certainly known to all. Image:  fastcompany.com

Flight MH370 Kuala Lumpur – Beijing was a night flight: departure around 0:30, and after almost six hours, travelers are already in the capital of China. A total of 227 passengers, the crew consisted of another 12 people. The 53-year-old commander Zakhari Ahmad Shah and the co-pilot Farik Abdul Hamid drove the plane (the guy is only 27 years old, but he managed to fly the Boeing 737 and Airbus A330, and now he mastered the “three sevens”).

Chronology of strange events

Liner broke away from the band on March 8 at 0:41. Half an hour later, at 1:19, the dispatcher at Kuala Lumpur Airport will receive the last voice message from the board of the Boeing 777. Two minutes later, something strange happens. In the plane turn off the transponder. The device constantly transmits the latest information to radars – flight number, altitude, and so on. When the transponder is deactivated, the liner turns into an unidentified flying object for controllers: radars still display it, but what kind of aircraft it is, is unclear – just a dot on the screen without any information.

The transponder was turned off at exactly the right moment: the Boeing 777 left the airspace of Malaysia, it was supposed to be picked up by Vietnamese air traffic controllers, but they did not immediately realize that they had missed the plane. In the meantime, the ship changes direction and heads for the southwest, while the voyage assumes movement to the northeast. During the investigation it will be established that the maneuver could not make the autopilot – at least when turning the plane was under the control of a person.

The liner came across Thai military radars, but local dispatchers did not attach importance to an unknown object. Later they explained that the ship did not pose a threat to the country’s airspace, so no one asked what kind of aircraft it was. Vietnamese civilian dispatchers remembered only 12 minutes after the silence of the MH370.

An hour after departure, another unusual thing happens: the ACARS system turns off. Once every 30 minutes, it sends a lot of technical data via satellites, which are needed by airlines, aircraft manufacturers and components of the Boeing 777 – system status, onboard information and so on. Attempts by dispatchers to contact MH370 failed.

By 2:40 Malaysia Airlines management receives bad news – the plane has disappeared, it’s impossible to get in touch. Only in the morning, an hour after the Boeing 777 was supposed to land at Beijing airport, the airline announced the missing flight MH370.

But even then the plane was still in the air. The satellites attempted to contact the liner for data exchange at 8:11 – apparently, the session failed due to the communication systems disconnected on the Boeing 777. Alas, there are not even approximate coordinates of the aircraft at the time of contact with the satellites. This would help narrow the search zone: after seven hours in the air, the fuel was already running out, which means that the crash area should have been close to the place of the satellite request. In the following months, one of the largest search operations unfolded, but it did not give anything. Rescuers studied tens of thousands of square kilometers of the surface of the Indian Ocean, but they could only say one thing: there is no aircraft anywhere.

The submarine found no aircraft

The first fragments of flight MH370 were found only by the middle of the summer of 2015. Residents of the island of Reunion, which is located seven hundred kilometers from Madagascar, found several bags and a fragment of a wing called flaperone. If personal belongings could theoretically be lost by travelers from some cruise ship, then the metal piece was clearly from the plane, and a large one. Later it was possible to confirm that the flaperone belongs to the missing Boeing 777. It would seem that some more and the secret will be solved: it is enough to study the currents to understand where the fragments came from. But everything turned out to be more difficult.

Fragment of a Boeing 777 engine hood with Rolls-Royce logo. Image: theweek.co.uk

At the end of the year before last, the young American company Ocean Infinity entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Transport of Malaysia: if the search vessel of the company did not find the MH370 for ninety days, the specialists would not receive a reward; if the ship is found, Malaysia will pay the team $ 20-70 million, depending on a number of conditions. The motivation of Ocean Infinity turned out to be serious, and the equipment too – the company rented a Norwegian research vessel Seabed Constructor with top equipment, which is intended to explore the seabed.

First, the team planned to explore 25 thousand square kilometers of the ocean, but at the end of the expedition, experts collected data from an area of ​​112 thousand square kilometers. And not a trace of the Boeing 777. There is almost no clue. However, there was another chance to find a plane. A few weeks after the disappearance of the MH370, the Chinese military ship Haixun 01 caught two signals at a frequency of 37.5 kHz – black boxes usually work on it. Moreover, about 90 kilometers from the ship there were some white objects on the surface of the water. Last summer, Ocean Infinity gathered to explore the area, but there was no more news – it looks like another dead end.

But the company was lucky with the solution of another puzzle: Ocean Infinity was able to find the San Juan submarine, which disappeared with the whole crew (44 people) a year earlier. The submarine rests at a depth of 920 meters in 600 kilometers east of the coast of Argentina, all people on board are considered dead. Apparently, finding the Boeing 777 became a matter of principle for Ocean Infinity: the company said it was ready to continue the search. The team plans to explore the new location with the help of underwater drones, which will scan the bottom in search of the liner.

“Assigned” culprit

Along with the crash site of the Boeing 777, the investigators are haunted by another question: what actually happened. The disappearance of such an aircraft until March 8, 2014 seemed impossible. Yes, in the history there have been cases of complete disappearances, but not a liner with a length of 63 meters and not in the XXI century. The basic version of aviation experts who have studied the mystery of the voyage revolves around hijacking. This theory explains the main mystery: why the transponder and ACARS turned off in the plane, he turned around and flew the ghost for about seven hours.

One of the found fragments of the wing. Image: chicagotribune.com

But here, not everything is clear: after all, no one put forward demands and did not take responsibility for what happened. Suppose the plane was seized by terrorists, the passengers and crew intervened, and the invaders had to abandon some main goal in order to just crash the plane – as was the case with United Airlines flight 93 during the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, there are questions about the chronology: the liner was in the air for about seven hours, and no one tried to get in touch by, for example, a satellite phone. Based on this, some experts came to the most unpleasant theory for all – the plane was hijacked by the crew.

Suspicion first fell on the commander and co-pilot. The fact is that between the last phrase (said in a normal, calm voice with no signs of excitement) only two minutes passed with the Boeing 777 and the turnaround by 180 degrees. It was hardly possible that the invaders could so accurately guess the moment of parting with the dispatcher and hijacking the ship. The trajectory of the liner’s maneuvers indicates that the plane was driven by a professional pilot. Investigators studied the biographies of passengers – no one had a license to fly. At the same time it turned out that the two Iranians traveled with forged documents. But the detectives did not find any links with the terrorists – people were probably just illegal migrants.

According to one of the versions, the  plane was hijacked by the commander – Zakhari Ahmad Shah. The foreign press pilots have expressed the hypothesis that the program piloting system (the FMS) on the hand-set in terms of latitude and longitude, which ships do not make flights (to the south of the Indian Ocean), most of the forces were Shah, not young Farik Abdul Hamid. Also, there were rumors about the commander’s family problems and his passion for girls, if you can call it compliments in social networks.

Flight Commander MH370 Zahari Ahmad Shah. Image: wsj.com

However, it was not possible to “appoint” the culprit : the investigation report states that nothing negative was found regarding the commander and co-pilot. The family and relatives of the Shah all the time claimed the innocence of the FAC, and at the moment the causes of the crash have not yet been officially established. At the same time, experts hint that they don’t even blame anyone, but the main fact cannot be ignored: the transponder and ACARS were not turned off, and the random pilot couldn’t set a new route – this was definitely done by an experienced pilot.

What do the fragments indicate

From time to time, “sensational discoveries in Google Maps” appear: for example, they allegedly found the MH370 in the jungles of Cambodia. But this is difficult to take seriously: the companion was just lucky to take a photo at the moment when a large airliner flew over the thickets.

Also, experts do not have a common opinion about the cause of the crash. Experts agree that the liner has developed all the fuel. Further disagreements begin. According to one of the versions, the uncontrolled liner went nose down into the ocean. During the fall from a height of 10-11 thousand meters, the Boeing 777 would have gained tremendous speed. A blow to the water in such a case would destroy the plane in the smallest details.

But the fragments cast to the bank of the Reunion are rather large. It is unlikely that the same flaperone, about two meters in size, would have survived with a vertical impact on the water (unless it came off due to overloads during a dive). Therefore, now they began to talk about a different version of the last minutes of the liner: the plane was smoothly descending at low speed, as if landing on water. Who in this case managed the liner is not clear.


Debris that may belong to flight MH370 continues to be found: last December, a piece of Boeing 777 floor and several other fragments were noticed off the coast of Madagascar. But Malaysia is not renewing active searches yet: the government requires weighty leads before giving millions again. Prior to the discovery of new fragments, investigators are unlikely to be able to get to the clue.

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