The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Separating Fact from Fiction

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The missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2011

The missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2011

In addition to the aforementioned details, which have been corroborated by flight data and possible eyewitness accounts, the ongoing investigation has also examined many possible leads that have so far either been discarded, or failed to turn up conclusive results.

On March 8, Vietnamese officials reported finding 12-mile (20-kilometer) oil slicks off the coast of Malaysia that were later tested by authorities and determined to contain no jet fuel.

Also on March 8, investigators reported that two of the passengers aboard the flight were traveling with stolen Italian and Austrian passports. Although this discovery fueled rumors of terrorist activity, authorities later determined that the two passengers were Iranian nationals who were attempting to migrate illegally to Europe and who did not have any known connections to terrorism.

On March 9, Vietnamese officials reported debris in the Gulf of Thailand that they believed to be a composite inner door and a piece of the missing jet’s tail, which upon closer investigation turned out to be the cap of a cable and a bundle of logs tied together.

Later that day, authorities reported that five passengers checked in for the flight, but never boarded, although their checked luggage was reported to have been offloaded. The Malaysian police later denied these reports.

On March 10, Vietnamese officials spotted an object in the Gulf of Thailand that they originally believed to be a lifeboat; however, it was later confirmed to be the lid of a large box.

NEW CLUES EMERGE

Five days later, on March 15, the search for the missing jet shifted to the Indian Ocean.  The decision to do this was based on military radar data suggesting that the plane was headed towards the Andaman Islands, a chain of islands between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, upon last contact.

Also on March 15, Malaysian officials reported that they believed “deliberate action” was responsible for the plane’s disappearance, and began a criminal inquiry into the situation. Suspicions of hijacking were based mainly on Acars data transmitted at 1:07 a.m. that showed alternate courses plotted in the flight computer in addition to the Beijing route. However, having several different flight plans in case of emergency is standard protocol and does not necessarily indicate deliberate diversion of the plane. Malaysian officials later stated that the last Acars transmission showed a normal route to Beijing and indicated nothing out of the ordinary.

To date, no criminal activity has been confirmed and no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the plane’s disappearance.

In the course of the weekend of March 15 and 16, authorities seized flight simulator data from the home of the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, in the hopes of finding clues as to what may have happened to the plane. Analysis of the data has so far failed to produce any conclusive results, although it was reported that files on the flight simulator’s hard drive had been deleted.

On March 18, eyewitness reports emerged from the Maldives, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. Residents of the islands reported seeing a low-flying plane, whose description matches that of the missing Boeing 777, traveling towards the southern tip of the island around 6:15 a.m. on the day of its disappearance. However, Maldives government officials later denied that these reports were true.

On March 19, Malaysian officials announced that they had completed background checks on all passengers aboard the flight, with the exception of three people from Russia and the Ukraine for whom authorities are still waiting to receive information. The background checks completed thus far have turned up no links to terrorist groups or other suspicious information.

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