News National MH370: the facts, the timeline, the theories
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MH370: the facts, the timeline, the theories

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MH370 THEORIES, FROM THE PLAUSIBLE TO THE PREPOSTEROUS

ROGUE PILOT

Days after MH370 disappeared, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said its movements were “consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane”, and the homes of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid were raided by police.

Several aviation experts say pilot suicide is the most likely scenario.

Ewan Wilson, the founder of failed venture Kiwi Airlines, co-wrote with journalist Geoff Taylor in the book Goodnight Malaysian 370 that the pilot locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit, depressurised the cabin and shut down communication links before taking the aircraft off-course and ditching in the sea.

ON-BOARD FIRE

MH370’s cargo hold contained a large amount of lithium-ion batteries, which may have exploded, spewing toxic fumes into the air that overwhelmed the crew.

But aviation safety expert Han Weber said fire sensors would have immediately kicked in and alerted the pilots, who would have then donned masks.

US media reports this week say United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have stopped accepting bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries because of overheating/explosion fears.

HIJACKING

US science writer and light plane pilot Jeff Wise speculated MH370 was hijacked on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and secretly landed in Kazakhstan. Bothered by a lack of floating debris, he postulated hijackers tampered with satellite transmission data in the electronics and equipment bay, which he claims can be accessed via a hatch in the front of the first class cabin. They did this “to provide a false trail of bread crumbs leading away from the plane’s true route”.

He offered no firm theory as to motive.

US MILITARY COVER UP

Former head of the now-defunct Proteus Airlines Marc Dugain believes the US military shot the plane down, fearing after it diverted off-course it had been remotely hijacked and could be used in a 9/11-style terrorist attack. He pointed to Maldives residents who had reported seeing an airliner flying at low altitude towards the island of Diego Garcia, which the US uses as a military base.

There have also been claims the plane landed on Diego Garcia.

MALAYSIAN MILITARY COVER UP

After the Malaysian prime minister said his country’s air force tracked a plane that did a turn-back but then deemed it non-hostile and did not intervene further, there was some speculation the air force shot it down. Military official Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad said that was “highly not possible”.

But Emirates chief Tim Clark said the claim the Malaysian military took no further action after the plane suddenly changed direction was “bizarre” and needed to be “looked at very carefully”.

KEY FACTS ABOUT MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT MH370

PASSENGERS AND CREW

– The Boeing 777-200 plane was carrying 227 passengers and a crew of 12

– The flight manifest includes 14 nationalities. Two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese citizens

– Veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah headed an all-Malaysian crew

– Seven people from Australia were on board: Rodney and Mary Burrows; Catherine and Robert Lawton; Li Yuan; Gu Naijun; and New Zealander Paul Weeks.

ROUTE

– Flying a commonly used route, MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur airport at 12.21am March 8, 2014 and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6.30am.

DISAPPEARANCE

– Less than an hour after take-off, contact with the plane was lost

– “Good night Malaysian three seven zero” were the last words spoken from the cockpit

– No distress signal was transmitted

– Malaysian authorities said the aircraft’s transponders were manually shut off as it crossed from Malaysian into Vietnamese airspace.

– Analysis of flight data led search authorities to believe the plane headed to the Southern Indian Ocean and crashed into the sea.

SEARCH AREA

– MH370 is presumed to have crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean

– Australian authorities say more than 26,000 square kilometres of sea floor have been searched – more than 40 per cent of the priority search area.

HOW THE FRUITLESS HUNT FOR MH370 HAS UNFOLDED SO FAR

2014

March 8

Flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew departs Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am, bound for Beijing. It vanishes from Malaysian civilian radar at 1.30am, before passing to Vietnamese air traffic control. It appears on military radar until 2.15am.

March 9

Malaysia’s air force chief says the plane may have turned back towards Kuala Lumpur for no apparent reason, citing radar data.

March 14

The hunt spreads far south to the Indian Ocean after the White House cites “new information” that the jet may have flown on after losing contact.

March 15

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says the plane appears to have veered sharply off-route about the same time that its communications system and transponder were manually switched off.

March 16

Suspicions focus on the pilot and co-pilot, both Malaysians. FBI experts examine the hard drive on a flight simulator in Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s home, but find nothing suspicious.

March 20

Australia says satellites photographed two large objects in the remote southern Indian Ocean, but it proves to be a false alarm.

March 24

Prime Minister Najib announces that MH370 is presumed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says an RAAF P3 Orion has located two objects about 2500km south-west of Perth.

March 25

In Beijing, emotional Chinese relatives of passengers scuffle with guards outside the Malaysian embassy, demanding answers.

March 31

Malaysia releases a transcript of all the pilots’ radio communications, but it sheds little light.

April 4

A US-supplied “black box” detector scans the suspected crash zone, with the clock ticking on the one-month battery life of their locator beacons.

April 5

A Chinese search ship detects an underwater “pulse signal” in the Indian Ocean. More “pings” are detected by other vessels in subsequent days, but they cease before they are pinpointed.

April 14

Halting the search for underwater signals, Australia deploys an American deep-sea drone to scan the seabed for debris near the ping sites. It ultimately finds nothing.

April 28

Australia announces the search area will be expanded across a huge swathe of ocean. The focus shifts for several months to mapping the uncharted see floor before searching can resume.

May 27

After weeks of pressure from families, Malaysia releases raw satellite data used to determine the search zone. Relatives say crucial data was omitted.

October 6

A Malaysia-contracted vessel resumes the sonar search of the seabed for debris. Three specialised Dutch search ships eventually join an effort expected to wrap up in May 2015.

2015

January 29

Malaysia’s government declares MH370’s passengers and crew “presumed dead”, angering next of kin who demand proof.

February 25

Australian authorities say vessels have completed scanning about 40 per cent of a 60,000 sq km “priority search area”, and have found nothing.

March 1

Australia says it is conducting trials with Malaysia and Indonesia of a system that increases the frequency with which planes are tracked over remote oceans, to avoid an MH370 recurrence.

March 5

Australian authorities say more than 26,000 sq km of the sea floor have been searched – over 40 per cent of the priority search area.