The loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has quickly become one of the most gripping mysteries of the year. No debris, no oil slicks, stolen passports and no mayday calls. Numerous countries have joined in the search, including 56 ships, 30 aircraft and 10 helicopters. Still, despite random flotsam showing up on satellite images, nothing has been attributed to MH370, nothing has been found.
So hereís what we do know:
1. The Boeing 777-200 is an incredibly safe aircraft that has never dealt with an accident of this magnitude before. Despite a few issues with fuel clogs, which later led to redesigned engine systems, and Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash landed into San Francisco (and so far has been attributed mostly to pilot error) the 777 was considered the safest craft in use.
2. We know that some passengers with falsified identification were on board. Two Iranian nationals, using passports stolen earlier that year in Thailand, successfully passed themselves off as Australian and Italian. The flights for these men were booked in cash, with a one way ticket. However, those men also had connecting flights to Europe, and zero ties with terrorist groups have shown up. This has led investigators to believe these men were trying to emigrate to the EU illegally, rather than having more disreputable plans for the flight.
3. About 45 minutes after the flight took off (1:30am) the transponders on the airplane Ė which tell flight control the location of the craft and work with collision avoidance systems ó either stopped working or were switched off. However, some experts are leaning towards the idea the transponders were turned off on purpose. Although electrical failure could be a factor, with multiple redundancies in place, itís unlikely every method of communication would fail at once.
John Ransom, a commercial pilot who spoke to CNN, broke it down: “This was a fairly modern airplane with a bunch of capability to communicate with the outside world. A lot of data transmissions from the airplane,” he said. “For them to all stop at the same time would take the work of somebody who has actually studied the systems in some detail to know how to turn off all of the systems at the same time.”
4. Now hereís where things get really dicey. A senior official in the Malaysian Air Force claims that around 2:40 am (about an hour after contact was lost) radar showed MH370 in the Strait of Malacca nearing a small island. This location deviated considerably from the flight path of MH370, with a normal Kuala Lumpur to Beijing Route not passing within a few hundred miles of there. This was later refuted by other officials, who noted that while an unidentified craft did pass through there, the lack of communication with it means itís not possible to confirm it was MH370.
5. There has been a distinct lack of debris and evidence. Usually when an aircraft enters the water (be it soft landing or nosedive) it causes certain structures to break apart. Large heavy sections (such as the wings and engines) sink quickly, whereas the lighter, smaller components from the cabin often float to the surface. Thatís why experts talk about Ďpieces being too largeí to be debris from the flight. Two oil slicks found early on where later proven unrelated. Very rarely, in modern times, can a large airliner vanish so completely.
When AirFrance Flight 447 went down off the coast of Brazil in 2009 there was also an initial lack of debris, which have led to comparisons between the two cases. That said, oil and jet fuel were discovered not long after the flight, leading to a location of the debris field. For the Malaysian Airlines flight, there seems to be zero evidence thus far. The transmitter on the black box, whose beacon can be relayed at a depth of 14,000 feet for 30 days, has yet to be heard.
So where does that leave the public? Was it a mechanical failure? Did it crash into the ocean? Was it hijacked? Are we even searching in the right place? Varying accounts and speculation has taken hold with Wall Street Journal reporting that some investigators think the airplane flew for hours. This was followed up quickly by other experts denying that a plane could travel four hours without being picked up by a single radar.
The ocean is far more vast than most people give it credit for. In a rush to try to piece together this tragedy, DigitalGlobe has used crowd sourcing so that anybody can scour the oceanís surface from their living room. Yet despite a few suspicious objects found here and there, nothing has been confirmed.
It often takes years for airplane disasters to be fully investigated to a satisfactory conclusion. Even then, questions are often left surrounding the tragedy. Yet very few disasters leave us with this level of unknowing dread, with no idea as to the final moments or whereabouts of 239 lost souls.