239 people are still missing today after Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared on the way to Beijing and only 45 minutes after takeoff. While a lot is still unknown about just what happened, several major theories have surfaced. Below are those theories and the facts surrounding them. First, understand two things. The Boeing 777 disappeared as it was heading towards Vietnam and by disappeared I mean that the plane’s transponder quit broadcasting. Transponders are used to keep track of planes, generally not radar. Primary radar is only effective at relatively short distances, usually under 70 miles (the distance from the horizon at over 2,000 feet above sea level. It’s called radar horizon and it limits the range of radar. Additionally, the world isn’t exactly covered up with radar much less in the ocean. Now, on to the theories.
1. Iranian Terrorists
As soon as authorities became aware that two stolen passports were used to allow two individuals to board Flight 370, one Austrian and one Italian, and that the purchaser of the tickets was Iranian, the world jumped to the conclusion that terrorists had gained control of the plane and crashed it or blown it up. In the following days, however, it appears that the two individuals using these passports were likely just Iranians trying to get into Europe. They’d been communicating with family and friends in both Malaysia and Europe about doing just such a thing prior to boarding Flight 370 and their families and friends were expecting them to land safely in Europe.
While the illicit passports certainly raise a lot of suspicion, this one appears to be a bust. Terrorists generally take credit for their actions. To not do so misses the entire point of carrying out terrorist attacks. No one knows who to be terrified of if you don’t take credit. But more importantly, there’s no history of Iranian animosity towards either Malaysians or the Chinese who made up the bulk of the passengers. However, there’s another possibility that I’ll get to in at number five.
2. Electrical Failure
There’s a theory that the transponder and the flight management computer may have suffered from a systematic electrical failure that would have, presumably, also burned out any communications systems the plane had. The idea behind this is that the pilots wouldn’t have been able to control the plane and that it might have set its own heading due to damage to the flight management computer and then eventually went into the sea.
CNN has been pushing this one a bit but it’s extremely odd. Here’s a map of the last detected location of Flight 370.
370 was heading more or less in a straight line from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It’s transponder stopped transmitting about 45 minutes out, roughly half the way to Vietnam. Afterwards, the plane reappeared on terrestrial radar very far west of its original flight plan. Unless everyone on the airplane was incapacitated and/or dead then someone would have been able to make a phone call as the plane passed over land again. For some reason, no one did.
Who knows, it’s happened before but presumably either both pilots would have to be in on it, the offending pilot would have to wait until the co-pilot left the cockpit, or the offending pilot would have to kill the co-pilot and seal the door. While this has happened before, it’s complete conjecture to assert this. However, this may have happened before.
Silk Air Flight 185 from Jakarta to Singapore, flow by Captain Tsu Wai Ming entered a “rapid decent” at 35,500 ft, crashing mid-flight on December 17, 1997. All 97 passenger and seven crew died onboard the Boeing 737.
Still, there’s no reason to believe that this is the case with Flight 370 and even suicide as a cause of accident in the case of Silk Air Flight 185 is conjecture.
4. General Mechanical Failure
The plane checked out as far as maintenance is concerned.
based on the MH370’s maintenance records, the plane was structurally sound and had “nothing that would jump straight out of the page,” according to reviews by Indonesia-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman.
Of course it’s possible that the plane had something catastrophic occur with it and that the pilot turned it around and wasn’t able to communicate with anyone for some reason. It’s possible but there’s nothing to suggest this occurred.
5. Uighur Terrorism
Many Chinese immediately assumed that the plane had been either destroyed or hijacked by Muslim Uighurs striking at the Chinese government for oppression. They did so because of general conflict between the Chinese government and Muslim ethnic Uighurs generally but they also did so because last month ten people in Kunming, China stabbed 159 people at a train station, killing 29 of them. Here’s video of the aftermath.
Muslim Uighur separatists have been seeking to leave China and form a Uighur majority country since just after the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Muslim Uighurs attended extremist camps all over Afghanistan pre-2001 and there used to be several at Guantanamo Bay. They consider China to be an occupying and oppressive occupier. If there is any group that has a motive for attacking Flight 370 it is the Uighur Easter Turkestan Independence Movement. But if Uighur separatists took control of Flight 370 then why haven’t they taken credit? That’s a good question, however they haven’t taken credit for the above mass stabbing either even police identified the 5 attackers they killed as being ethnic Uighurs.
And what if this was a hijacking gone awry? Recall United Airlines Flight 93 which was crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9/11 by its hijackers when they feared the passengers might retake control of the plane.
However the truth is that while these are all currently the more popular theories being bandied about by both governments and pundits, no one knows what happened and it truly may be years before anyone knows. While the disappearance of Flight 370 is shattering enough for the families of those that are lost it’s even worse to consider that some of these family members may never know what happened or how or why.