Questions Persist 10 Years After Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Disappeared

In the 10 years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished, progress on solving one of aviation's largest mysteries has been nearly stagnant. While there are no confirmed answers, several theories have tried to determine how this tragedy occurred.

By Jack Knudson
Apr 4, 2024 1:00 PM
Malaysia Flight
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 takes off in Frankfurt, Germany (Credit: Markus Mainka/ Shutterstock.com)

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On March 8, 2014, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) stunned the world. The incident has given rise to several theories that have attempted to explain the mysterious fate of the flight's 227 passengers and 12 crew.

The presumed 239 fatalities made this one of the deadliest episodes in aviation history, yet what caused it remains unresolved to this day. 

What Happened to MH370?

Any known details about the plane's disappearance are extremely scarce. MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia to its destination, Beijing Capital International Airport in China, and last communicated with air traffic control approximately 38 minutes after takeoff.

At the time, it was flying over the South China Sea; it disappeared from air traffic control radar screens soon after, but military radars kept tracking it for another hour as it veered southwest toward the Andaman Sea (off the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand). Attempts to contact the flight were unsuccessful, and eventually, it left the range of the military radar. 

Extensive searches for the missing airplane in the South China Sea, Andaman Sea, and the southern Indian Ocean have brought no conclusive results. It appears that the Malaysian government may be open to renewing the search if new evidence relating to the plane’s potential location turns up, but in the meantime, people are still grasping for answers and can only speculate how that tragic day may have unfolded. 

The Theories About the Disappearance of MH370

The disappearance of MH370 has invited a deluge of theories over the years, some more outlandish than others (claims that the plane was consumed by a black hole, struck by a meteor, and even abducted by aliens have been widely derided). Here are some of the theories:

Mechanical Failures

One guess is that there may have been electrical failures or a fire that caused the plane to go out of control. Another asserts that the crew and passengers may have somehow been stricken with hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen is depleted. 

Foreign Interference or Hijacking

Controversial claims of interference from other countries or terrorist groups have also received considerable attention. Proponents of these claims believe a coordinated attack — whether a hijacking or a cyberattack — from a hostile entity is to blame. There is no evidence that an attack occurred, and the idea has been overwhelmingly dismissed by officials.  

Pilot Suicide/Mass Murder

The pilot of the plane, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has been the subject of many theories. Some believe domestic problems in Shah’s personal life led him crash the plane in a murder-suicide.

One theory suggests that Shah would have locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit and depressurized the plane’s passenger cabin, depriving passengers of oxygen and ultimately killing them. Those who support this theory also argue that an "initially similar" route apparently practiced by Shah on a flight simulator at his home proves his responsibility, though it was not identical to MH370's path.

Governmental agencies like the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which assisted with the underwater search, deny the idea that Shah caused the crash. According to a 2018 BBC article, ATSB says the pilot was unconscious leading up to the plane’s crash based on their investigation, dismissing the possibility of a ditching event (or a controlled emergency landing on water). In 2017, the ATSB published a report regarding the search for 370 using satellite data and study of debris drift. 


Read More: Analyzing Barnacles Could Revive the Search For Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370


What Happened to the Debris From MH370?

One of the main reasons finding MH370 has been a challenge is the scarcity of debris. Despite this, a few pieces of debris have resurfaced, such as a flaperon (part of a plane wing) that washed up on Réunion Island (a department of France in the western Indian Ocean) in 2015. 

A 2023 study offered hope toward progress by examining the barnacles that had formed on this flaperon. Led by University of South Florida geoscientist Gregory Herbert, researchers used a method to extract records of ocean temperatures from the shells of the barnacles. In doing so, they could recreate part of the flaperon’s drift path; the rest of the path cannot be determined until researchers examine much larger and older barnacles — held by French authorities — that were likely attached to the flaperon upon its recovery. 

The lack of major debris could be a result of a vertical entry into the ocean. Based on simulations using applied mathematics and fluid dynamics, Texas A&M mathematics professor Goong Chen and a team of researchers found in 2015 that MH370 may have entered the water at a steep angle, in a nosedive state.

A vertical entry would have caused any heavy debris to sink to the bottom of the ocean rather than be scattered across the ocean surface, as reported in an article from Cosmos Magazine

A Mystery Unsolved

Theories ranging from the eccentric to the conceivable have been abundant in the past decade, but none of them advance a definitive answer.

Previous search attempts have faced myriad hurdles, such as the rough conditions of the southern Indian Ocean's sea floor, harsh weather, and difficulty in deploying sonar technology in deep water.

Future searches to uncover additional evidence — possibly conducted by private companies like Texas-based marine robotics company Ocean Infinity — are not entirely off the table. For now, it seems that the MH370 disaster will continue to be shrouded in mystery, but people around the world are holding onto the hope that a breakthrough may yet be on the horizon. 


Read More: Has Amelia Earhart's Long-Lost Plane Finally Been Found?


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