On March 8th of 2014 Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 inexplicably disappeared off the face of the Earth, sparking international media attention for months to come.
However, despite numerous searches across both land and sea, the plane was never found. So, now four years later, where are we in our search for the 239 souls aboard that forsaken plane? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to start at the beginning of the timeline.
At approximately 12:41 AM on March 7th MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport carrying 239 passengers and was scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 AM. At 1:07 AM the plane sent its last in a series of short messages (ACARS) to Malaysian air traffic control and at 1:19 AM either the pilot or co-pilot made the plane's last communication with Malaysian air traffic control.
Only two minutes later at 1:21 AM the plane's transponder was cut off as the plane entered Vietnamese airspace over the South China Sea. The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam reports that the plane then failed to check in with air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City as scheduled. Over an hour later at 2:22 AM the plane was plotted by Malaysian military radar far west of its last known location in the south of Phuket Island near the Strait of Malacca. Thai military quickly seconded this report stating that the plane quickly turned west and then north over the Andaman Sea.
At this point, the plane ceases to show up on the radar. However, at 2:28 AM the plane was again picked up by an Indian satellite in a series of "handshakes" with ground stations. These "handshakes" are pretty much plane specific signals that most airlines send out to satellites across the globe which can help to locate the planes. Almost six hours pass without any contact from the plane while flight analysts and scientists try to pin down the exact location of the aircraft to little success. Then, at 8:11 AM the eighth and final "handshake" was received. The data gathered from this handshake placed the aircraft in one of two flight corridors; one stretching north between Thailand and Kazakhstan and the other between Indonesia and the southern Indian Ocean.
At 8:19 AM a final partial "handshake" is received between the plane and ground stations although this is thought to be consistent with a minor power outage onboard the plane followed by the satellite communications onboard rebooting. At 9:15 AM what would have been the next automatic communication between the aircraft and ground stations is never received. At this point, all contact is lost.
The initial search for MH370 focused on the South China Sea, south of Vietnam’s Ca Mau peninsula. The plane’s planned route would have taken it northeast over Cambodia and Vietnam. The search was redirected towards the sea west of Malaysia after military radar confirmed that the plane had changed from its northerly route and had made a drastic turn to the west.
After a week with no results, the search area was expanded to an area of 3,000,000 square miles stretching from Kazakhstan in the north to vast, remote areas of the Indian Ocean in the south.
On March 16 supposed debris was spotted by a satellite in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Australia and the search was moved to this area. Again, on the 28th of March more potential debris was spotted and, after further analysis of the plane’s speed and potential range, the search was moved 1,100 kilometers to the northeast and closer to Australia.
From the 5th of April up until the 8th Chinese and Australian vessels picked up ultrasonic signals, which were believed to be from the ship’s now submerged black box. An underwater search was set up in the area to locate the source of this signal but on May 29 Australian officials announced that the search had failed to find anything conclusive and that the area was most likely not the final resting place of flight MH370.
On June 26 officials expanded the search area to a new 60,000 square kilometers and Australian officials stated that they believed the plane was running on autopilot when it crashed. On July 29, 2015, nearly a year later, a 2-meter long flaperon is discovered washed up on the northeastern coast of La Reunion by a group of volunteers cleaning the beach.
On August 5 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that investigators had confirmed that the debris was from Flight MH370. However, this did not affect the initial search since the debris had likely been carried to La Reunion by ocean currents.
All Boeing 777 model aircraft are standard equipped with a black box recorder which can survive almost any disaster. These black boxes record cockpit conversations as well as highly detailed flight data. The black boxes continue to transmit locator signals for 30 days after a disaster allowing anyone searching for the plane to pick up and home in on the signal. However, this plane’s particular black box failed to do so. This means that it either vanished, malfunctioned, or was somehow inexplicably destroyed.
Also, Many parts of aircraft such as these do indeed float. If the airplane was victim to some manner of in air explosion there should have been large amounts of noticeable debris floating on the surface ocean.
However, no such debris was discovered despite the extensive searches by air and sea.
The fact that the plane disappeared from the radar is also a mystery. Even though the plane did shut off all communication with the ground control they still should have been picked up on the radar. The only way this can be explained is if the plane was flying far below the range of the radar towers putting the plane at an extremely dangerous distance to the ocean surface.
For now, the mystery of MH370 remains just that, a mystery. Despite numerous supposed sightings of the plane over Australia as well as Afghanistan, these have widely been debunked by their respective governments leaving us with only theories.
Of these theories hypoxia, fire, a rogue pilot, and even a northern landing in Malaysia have been the most popular. The truth is, we may never know what exactly happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 and the 239 souls onboard until the aircraft is finally located once and for all.