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

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The cockpit of the missing plane, in 2004

The cockpit of the missing plane, in 2004

Later that day, a crowdsourcing site using satellite imagery and analysis by hundreds of thousands of people said it had possibly located the remains of an aircraft in the Strait of Malacca, where the plane was last detected by military radar. Searchers from several countries had previously combed the Strait for the remains of MH370 and found no evidence of the plane.

On March 20, a search effort led by Australia located possible debris from the plane, including an unidentified object 79 feet (24 meters) in length, in the southern Indian Ocean. The investigation into this new lead has been ongoing despite difficult weather conditions and the remoteness of the area.

Finally, on March 21, a report emerged that the captain of Flight 370 had a two-minute telephone conversation prior to departure with a woman whose mobile phone number was obtained using a false identity. Media reports said that investigators are treating the information “seriously.”

MANY POSSIBILITIES, FEW FACTS

The case has given rise to many unsubstantiated theories by Internet and television commentators, most revolving around elaborate terrorism or hijacking schemes. However, there are some who remain unconvinced that foul play was involved.

Chris Goodfellow, an experienced former pilot, put forth an alternate theory of the plane’s disappearance, which has since received much attention on the Internet. Goodfellow believes that an electrical fire onboard the aircraft caused the pilots to turn the plane westward and head towards the nearest airport, located on the island of Pulau Langkawi, for an emergency landing.

He hypothesized that the plane’s communication and transponder systems were disabled by the crew in the process of searching for the cause of the fire, and that smoke in the cockpit rendered the pilots unconscious before they could land the plane in Langkawi. According to Goodfellow’s theory, the plane then continued flying on autopilot over the Indian Ocean for another six or seven hours, until it eventually ran out of fuel and crashed.

Goodfellow’s explanation has gained considerable online support because it fits well with the established timeline of events. In general, mechanical failure and other catastrophic events remain the Occam’s Razor explanations for flight disappearances, as opposed to deliberate human intervention. The recent discovery of possible plane debris in the southern Indian Ocean lends further credibility to Goodfellow’s hypothesis.

If the plane or its wreckage is located, flight recorder data could potentially answer some but most likely not all of the questions about the series of events that led to the flight’s disappearance.

BOTTOM LINE

As the investigation enters its third week, the mystery of the missing flight remains painfully unresolved. Given the vast number of possibilities and relatively few established facts surrounding the plane’s disappearance, the event has quickly become one of the most baffling aviation mysteries in history, rivaling the 80-year unsolved case of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s aircraft in 1937 and capturing the public’s attention in a similar manner.

With relatively few leads to go on, along with multiple missteps on the part of the Malaysian government in its handling of the affair, countries involved in the search have increasingly engaged in public sniping that has made the headlines and served as a poor substitute for real progress. As the world watches and waits, the ongoing search for the missing aircraft in the Indian Ocean may either bring the case to an abrupt resolution, or become yet another failed attempt to bring closure to the loved ones of MH370 passengers and crew.

 

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Accura News

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