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Where is MH370? Here’s What 4 Years of Investigation Has Revealed

The flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members disappeared in the early hours of 8 March 2014.

Updated
Explainers
5 min read
Families of the passengers aboard MH370 are still looking for answers. 
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Snapshot

(This explainer, first published on 29 May 2018, has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the day the Malaysian government offers its final report on the mystery.)

After four years of relentless investigations, the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 was finally called off on Tuesday, 29 May 2018.

It’s been four years since the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared without a trace — giving rise to one of biggest aviation mysteries.

The flight, a Boeing 777, was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members. At 1.19 am, 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah said, “Good night, Malaysian 370,” to ground control, as shown in the National Geographic documentary What Happened to MH370 Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (2015).

After this, Kuala Lumpur stopped tracking the aircraft, as it was out of Malaysian airspace. This was the last time anyone was in contact with the flight.

Years after this tragedy, which has left specialists in the aviation industry confounded, here’s the story of what most people believe happened after MH370 exited the Malaysian airspace.

Where is MH370? Here’s What 4 Years of Investigation Has Revealed

  1. 1. How Did MH370 Disappear Without a Trace?

    A Malaysian Airlines Flight (MH370) went missing on 8 March 2014. 
    A Malaysian Airlines Flight (MH370) went missing on 8 March 2014. 
    (Photo: Reuters)

    Once the flight crossed out of Malaysian airspace, the flight’s transponder signal went off, and no contact with the flight was ever made again. Alan Hoffman, an expert in aviation law, writes that it took a year for Australian Transport Safety Bureau to carry out a forensic analysis of the transmissions from the on-board satellite communications system, known as Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).

    It was discovered that shortly after Malaysian ground control lost contact with the aircraft, the latter made another turn off-course, to the southwest, and continued in that direction for six-seven hours until it ran out of fuel. This route is usually referred to as ‘The Seventh Arc.’

    Expand
  2. 2. What Progress Have Investigators Made So Far?

    A large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island.
    A large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island.
    (Photo: Reuters)

    A few months after the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight, a joint-investigation by Malaysia, Australia and China was launched in September 2014. For a long time, the joint search didn’t yield any substantial results, although going by the data collected from its ACARS describing its route, it was evident that it had crashed somewhere along the southern part of the Indian ocean.

    Aviation law expert Alan Hoffman writes that it was only in July 2015 that large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island in the western part of the Indian ocean. Some more debris was also recovered from recovered from beaches in Madagascar and East Africa.

    On the basis of these clues, the investigating team decided to map out a 120,000 square kilometre underwater search area, which was about 1,500 miles west of Australia and was located in the southern part of the Indian Ocean. 

    However, there was no trace of the missing flight in this area, despite the team conducting their search all the way down to the sea-floor more than 18,000 feet from the surface of the water. After carrying on the search for another year and a half, the joint team made a collective decision to call off the search In January 2017.

    However, in January, 2018, Malaysia had made a deal with Texas-based Ocean Infinity, which was given a 90-day time-frame to resume the search and conclude its investigations. 

    According to an ABC News report, Ocean Infinity commenced its search on 22 January, and had increased the demarcated search area to 25,000-square-kilometre. As part of this deal, the Malaysian government has also promised to pay the company only if the mission is successful within three months, in which case the payment would be done in terms of the size of the area searched.

    Malaysia's Civil Aviation Chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told ABC News that the search was going positively and that they expected to have some results by end-June at least.

    Expand
  3. 3. Are There any Conspiracy Theories?

    A flurry of conspiracy theories, put forth by leading investigators and experts in aviation mysteries, have gained popularity since the flight first disappeared four years ago. As according to the National Geographic documentary, each of these have glaring loopholes, no matter the likelihood of the situation. The same documentary filters in four of the most probable theories.

    The most widely-considered conspiracy theories include:

    • A hijacking by terrorist groups gone wrong
    • An outbreak of fire leading to system failure
    • De-pressurisation of the cabin resulting in hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues)
    • A suicide mission by one of the pilots themselves
    Expand
  4. 4. Who Was Aboard MH370?

    Families of the passengers aboard MH370 are still looking for answers. 
    Families of the passengers aboard MH370 are still looking for answers. 
    (Photo: Reuters)

    A BBC report states that the 239 people (227 passengers and 12 staff) aboard the Malaysian Airlines flight hailed from about 14 different nationalities. Out of these, 153 people were Chinese.

    A prominent engineer, Dr Yuchen Li, who had recently obtained his doctoral engineering degree from Cambridge University and was working in a high-end geotechnical position in Beijing, was one of the passengers on the flight.

    The report added that also among the passengers was a group of 24 Chinese artists who were returning home after attending a cultural exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. The oldest and most distinguished among them, 79-year-old Lou Baotang, has had his calligraphy been included in the academic books of several cultural institutions in China, Britain and the US.

    A veteran martial arts expert, 35-year-old Ju Kun, who had acted as a stunt double for actor Jet Li, and had worked for films such as ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’, was also on board.

    At 23 months old, Wang Moheng was one of the youngest passengers on board MH370. He, along with his parents and grandparents, died on the flight.

    Expand
  5. 5. Has MH370's Disappearance Affected Air Safety?

    Where is MH370? Here’s What 4 Years of Investigation Has Revealed
    (Photo: Reuters)

    Two years after the disappearance of MH370, the United Nation’s aviation agency announced new regulations that would allow airplanes to be tracked in real-time, reports The Verge. The governing council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation adopted the measures and its council president, Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, said that it would ensure that “similar disappearances never occur again."

    Speaking about the regulations, Aliu, reports The Verge, said:

    They (the regulations) directly support the concept of operations for the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS), which was proposed by ICAO at that time, and will now greatly contribute to aviation’s ability to ensure that similar disappearances never occur again.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

How Did MH370 Disappear Without a Trace?

A Malaysian Airlines Flight (MH370) went missing on 8 March 2014. 
A Malaysian Airlines Flight (MH370) went missing on 8 March 2014. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Once the flight crossed out of Malaysian airspace, the flight’s transponder signal went off, and no contact with the flight was ever made again. Alan Hoffman, an expert in aviation law, writes that it took a year for Australian Transport Safety Bureau to carry out a forensic analysis of the transmissions from the on-board satellite communications system, known as Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).

It was discovered that shortly after Malaysian ground control lost contact with the aircraft, the latter made another turn off-course, to the southwest, and continued in that direction for six-seven hours until it ran out of fuel. This route is usually referred to as ‘The Seventh Arc.’

ADVERTISEMENT

What Progress Have Investigators Made So Far?

A large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island.
A large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island.
(Photo: Reuters)

A few months after the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight, a joint-investigation by Malaysia, Australia and China was launched in September 2014. For a long time, the joint search didn’t yield any substantial results, although going by the data collected from its ACARS describing its route, it was evident that it had crashed somewhere along the southern part of the Indian ocean.

Aviation law expert Alan Hoffman writes that it was only in July 2015 that large piece of wreckage, which was later found to be from the control surface of the concerned flight, washed ashore on Reunion Island in the western part of the Indian ocean. Some more debris was also recovered from recovered from beaches in Madagascar and East Africa.

On the basis of these clues, the investigating team decided to map out a 120,000 square kilometre underwater search area, which was about 1,500 miles west of Australia and was located in the southern part of the Indian Ocean. 

However, there was no trace of the missing flight in this area, despite the team conducting their search all the way down to the sea-floor more than 18,000 feet from the surface of the water. After carrying on the search for another year and a half, the joint team made a collective decision to call off the search In January 2017.

However, in January, 2018, Malaysia had made a deal with Texas-based Ocean Infinity, which was given a 90-day time-frame to resume the search and conclude its investigations. 

According to an ABC News report, Ocean Infinity commenced its search on 22 January, and had increased the demarcated search area to 25,000-square-kilometre. As part of this deal, the Malaysian government has also promised to pay the company only if the mission is successful within three months, in which case the payment would be done in terms of the size of the area searched.

Malaysia's Civil Aviation Chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told ABC News that the search was going positively and that they expected to have some results by end-June at least.

Are There any Conspiracy Theories?

A flurry of conspiracy theories, put forth by leading investigators and experts in aviation mysteries, have gained popularity since the flight first disappeared four years ago. As according to the National Geographic documentary, each of these have glaring loopholes, no matter the likelihood of the situation. The same documentary filters in four of the most probable theories.

The most widely-considered conspiracy theories include:

  • A hijacking by terrorist groups gone wrong
  • An outbreak of fire leading to system failure
  • De-pressurisation of the cabin resulting in hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues)
  • A suicide mission by one of the pilots themselves
ADVERTISEMENT

Who Was Aboard MH370?

Families of the passengers aboard MH370 are still looking for answers. 
Families of the passengers aboard MH370 are still looking for answers. 
(Photo: Reuters)

A BBC report states that the 239 people (227 passengers and 12 staff) aboard the Malaysian Airlines flight hailed from about 14 different nationalities. Out of these, 153 people were Chinese.

A prominent engineer, Dr Yuchen Li, who had recently obtained his doctoral engineering degree from Cambridge University and was working in a high-end geotechnical position in Beijing, was one of the passengers on the flight.

The report added that also among the passengers was a group of 24 Chinese artists who were returning home after attending a cultural exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. The oldest and most distinguished among them, 79-year-old Lou Baotang, has had his calligraphy been included in the academic books of several cultural institutions in China, Britain and the US.

A veteran martial arts expert, 35-year-old Ju Kun, who had acted as a stunt double for actor Jet Li, and had worked for films such as ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’, was also on board.

At 23 months old, Wang Moheng was one of the youngest passengers on board MH370. He, along with his parents and grandparents, died on the flight.

Has MH370's Disappearance Affected Air Safety?

Where is MH370? Here’s What 4 Years of Investigation Has Revealed
(Photo: Reuters)

Two years after the disappearance of MH370, the United Nation’s aviation agency announced new regulations that would allow airplanes to be tracked in real-time, reports The Verge. The governing council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation adopted the measures and its council president, Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, said that it would ensure that “similar disappearances never occur again."

Speaking about the regulations, Aliu, reports The Verge, said:

They (the regulations) directly support the concept of operations for the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS), which was proposed by ICAO at that time, and will now greatly contribute to aviation’s ability to ensure that similar disappearances never occur again.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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