In the early hours of March 8, 2014, Zaharie Ahmad Shah launched Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 just before 12:45 a.m. local time.
Everything was routine on the Boeing 777 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China, as the plane prepared to leave Malaysian airspace and head for Vietnam via the South China Sea.
“Good night, Malaysian 370,” the pilot told air traffic controllers as they prepared to hand over communications duties to the Vietnamese.
Those were the last words of the 239 people on board flight MH370, which mysteriously lost all radar contact a minute and a half later. New York Post reports.
The flight had vanished without a trace and what really happened in the sky remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history to this day.
Now a new Netflix docuseries, MH370: the plane that disappearedexplores various theories about what happened that night.
The flight had about seven hours of fuel, Fuad Sharuji, former crisis director of Malaysia Airlines, said in archive footage.
Although MH370 had lost all radar communication, the aircraft still spoke electronically to a satellite from the British company Inmarsat.
“Every hour, the Inmarsat system checked to see if the aircraft’s satellite terminal was responding… these pings continued for six hours after last contact,” Inmarsat representative Mark Dickinson said in the docuseries.
But the Inmarsat data could only confirm that the flight was still airborne, as it lacked GPS tracking capabilities. Still, it was able to determine how far the plane was from the satellite it had communicated with.
Based on this information, two speculative routes have been drawn up that show how and where the aircraft went off course.
In both scenarios, MH370 did not proceed towards mainland Vietnam, instead turning back west over Malaysia.
From there it is predicted that the flight went north over Central Asia or to the South Indian Ocean near Australia.
The latter route is the most likely scenario, on which experts generally agree. But what actually happened in the sky is still up for debate.
Had Shah gone rogue? Or was another state responsible for the unknown fate of the flight? A final commission report on MH370 noted that “the team is unable to determine the real cause of the disappearance”.
The most incriminating evidence for the theory that Shah, an experienced pilot, planned to commit a mass murder suicide by lowering the plane into the Indian Ocean was found on a flight simulator he kept in his home, which in 2016 became the made headlines. .
It was there that Shah reportedly flew a simulation similar to the plane’s presumed, off-charted final course over the ocean just a month before MH370 took off.
But the home simulator data isn’t quite the “smoking gun,” it seems, said Mike Exner of the Independent Group, a watchdog panel of aviation experts set up to uncover the truth about the flight’s final hours.
“It is very strange that a simulation ends up with fuel exhaustion in the southern Indian Ocean,” he said. “I don’t think taking the simulator data by itself proves much… The simulator data isn’t the whole puzzle; it is only one piece of the puzzle that fits.”
Jeff Wise, an aviation journalist whose theories about the flight became controversial among pundits, claimed that the FBI knew about the route in the flight simulator as far back as 2014.
Wise said the practicality of Shah taking the plane single-handedly requires an “aggressive and sophisticated” plot, locking his co-pilot out of the cockpit, turning off radar communications and depressurizing the cabin to avoid interference.
Meanwhile, a possible motive remains unclear.
The final report on MH370 states: “There is no evidence of recent behavioral changes for the [pilot].”
Wise has another working theory about MH370’s whereabouts, but it’s more like the plot of a James Bond movie than anything.
A few months after the flight was lost, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, another 777, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine as Russia invaded nearby Crimea.
Checking flight logs, Wise noted that there were three Russian passengers on board MH370 – and they were all seated by an electric hatch. He theorized that two of the three could have created a distraction while the other member snuck below deck to remotely control the plane’s flight.
Rather than being sent south, Wise believes it was taken to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
But that theory was quickly founded.
“Anyone who steps into the hatch can turn off the transponder and turn off the communication systems,” says Sharuji. “But it is impossible to control the aircraft from the aviation compartment.”
Wise’s colleagues were also quick to debunk the idea.
“[The group is] absolutely sure the plane was turning south and not north. It was surprising that Jeff decided to go this route,” Mr. Exner said.
Wise’s suspicions ended with his removal from the group.
Another wild theory is that the US military, which was conducting training exercises in the South China Sea at the time, shot down MH370 at the point where it first lost radar contact between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace.
French journalist Florence de Changy has noted that the cargo delivered “under escort” and then carried by MH370 contained 2.5 tons of electronic devices – which had not been scanned prior to loading.
“It is well known that China was very eager to acquire highly sensitive US technology in surveillance, stealth, drone technology,” de Changy said. “This could be the crux of what happened to MH370.”
America had two radar jamming aircraft equipped with an Airborne Warning & Control System (AWAC) nearby on the night MH370 took off. De Changy theorized that they could have been used to knock the plane off radar electronically and ordered Shah to land.
When he decided to keep the flight on course, she claimed that “either through a missile strike or a mid-air collision, MH370 met its fate”.
But, like Wise, de Changy has no evidence for her theory — nor is it supported by the Inmarsat data projections. Mr Exner is also critical of using the thesis to promote her 2021 book, The disappearing law: the impossible case of MH370.
“I’m just reluctant to talk about Florence or Jeff or these conspiracy advocates,” said Mr Exner, who said he believes the most logical conclusion doesn’t read like a Tom Clancy novel and is set in the Indian Ocean.
“They’re just such a distraction… These are people who don’t really understand the facts and the data.”
This story originally appeared in the New York Post and is republished here with permission