10 years after Flight MH370 disappeared, investigators have ‘many theories but little evidence’

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Ten years on from when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished from the sky, the search for the truth about what happened to it continues to plague the loved ones of those on board. 

“While we, the families, may have reached a settlement with our emotions, our search for answers hasn’t ended,” K S Narendran, who lost his wife, Chandrika, on the flight, said at a memorial event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last Sunday. 

The disappearance of a modern commercial plane — and the 239 passengers and crew on board — has baffled experts, sparked wild conspiracy theories and triggered one of the largest searches in aviation history. 

Here’s what we do know: In the early hours of March 8, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off into the night sky from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It initially followed its planned route toward Beijing. 

After being instructed to contact Vietnamese air traffic control at 1:19 a.m. local time, the last communication from the flight deck was “Good night, Malaysian 370.”

People light handles on a table.
Family members and relatives of passengers and crew light candles during the tenth annual remembrance event in Subang Jaya. (FL Wong/The Associated Press)

Minutes later, the plane’s communication transponder switched off, and the jet vanished from the radar. What happened next has added to the intrigue around this aviation mystery. 

“The plane turned very hard to the left and went back over Malaysia, under Penang up the Malacca Strait into the Andaman Sea. That was tracked by military radar,” said Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of Airlineratings.com, a website that ranks airline safety records.

‘They dragged their feet,’ relative says of investigation

Further data on the plane’s route came from satellite communications with MH370, indicating that the jet had eventually gone down in the Indian Ocean off the west of Australia. 

Only small pieces of debris have been found to date. 

“More pieces do turn up, but that’s more to do with the fact that they’ve arrived on very remote beaches, and it takes time for people to stumble onto them,” said Thomas. 

A visitor looks at the wreckage of an aircraft believed to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 during a remembrance event marking the 10th anniversary of its disappearance, in Subang Jaya, Malaysia March 3, 2024.
A visitor looks at the wreckage of an aircraft believed to be from MH370 during the memorial event in Subang Jaya. (Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters)

Three official investigations have failed to find clear answers. 

“I have often felt that the authorities wanted the MH370 matter to go away,” Narendran, who lives in India, told CBC News. 

“I got the impression that they dragged their feet. It perhaps was an embarrassment, a reminder of their limited competence, a heavy burden of international expectation.”

People hold signs asking authorities to find the missing plane.
Family members of passengers, seen at a special press conference in Kuala Lumpur in July 2016, have been sharply critical of the Malaysian government’s handling of the investigation. (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

The last official investigation was closed in 2018, with a near-500 page report released by Malaysian investigators. 

It found that the plane diverted from its planned route while the aircraft was under manual control, not autopilot.

It also pointed to failings in the response from air traffic control but ultimately concluded that “a lack of evidence” meant that investigators were unable to determine the cause of the disappearance.

“The report failed to answer the core questions surrounding the plane’s disappearance: What or who led to the plane’s disappearance? Where did the plane land or crash?” said Narendran. 

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No new evidence about pilot, first officer

Late last year, a Beijing court began compensation hearings for some of the relatives of the Chinese passengers on board MH370. 

They were seeking damages from Malaysia Airlines, Boeing and engine maker Rolls-Royce among others, with some of the relatives also calling for the search to resume.

Meanwhile, the void created by the lack of answers continues to be filled with theories and speculation. 

Many fingers have been pointed at the plane’s Malaysian pilots: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid. 

“All of the evidence points to the captain,” said Thomas. “It has to be human input. The plane can’t do all of these things.” 

One theory speculated that everyone on the plane was overcome by hypoxia because of sudden depressurization, but Thomas is skeptical and says if that were the case, the plane would have simply followed its flight path.

A woman in a mask and sun glasses holds a sign.
Hu Xiufang whose son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were on the missing MH370, holds up a banner that reads ‘Malaysian MH370 case’ in Beijing last November. More than 150 Chinese citizens were on board the flight. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

“It was programmed to fly to Beijing, and it would have gone beyond Beijing and to Siberia,” he said. 

In 2017, Australian authorities said Shah had flown a route on his home flight simulator that was “initially similar” to the route that MH370 is believed to have taken when it went off course, but that detail didn’t lead anywhere.

Malaysian investigators found “no evidence of anxiety or stress” in radio communications from the flight deck and no sign that Shah or Hamid had been under financial stress or exhibiting behavioural changes in the days and weeks leading up to the flight.

New potential search area 

Speculation of a terrorist attack by a passenger or a stowaway has also surfaced. 

“Given the complex flight path taken by the aircraft, it was very likely a deliberate act by an individual, but for what reasons? We have many theories but little evidence,” Joe Hattley, the Australian accredited representative to Malaysia’s investigation into MH370’s disappearance, told CBC News. 

In the absence of any ongoing official investigation, independent groups and individuals have stepped in and are conducting their own research. 

The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 March 31, 2014.
The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines plane three weeks after it disappeared. (Rob Griffith/Reuters)

One of them is British aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey, who has used signals from amateur radio technology to detect the route that MH370 may have taken. 

“The disturbance of those signals is what gives a footprint of where the aircraft has gone,” said Thomas of Godfrey’s work. 

Godfrey has pinpointed a new potential search area, just over 1,500 km west of Perth, Australia. 

“It’s an area with a radius of about 30 square miles, so it’s very small, a very small pinprick,” Thomas said.

The location is yet to be searched. 

Barnacles in debris may hold clues

Analysis of the various pieces of the plane that have washed up over the years might also offer clues, said Hattley. 

“Professor Greg Herbert from the University of South Florida is working on further analysis of the barnacles that were attached to some of the floating debris that was found in the Western Indian Ocean,” he said.

By studying the formation of the barnacle shells, researchers hope to be able to work out the temperature of the water where the debris came from. It’s then hoped that a trail can be formed back to the main wreckage. 

Hands pick up pieces of debris on a table.
Pieces of debris believed to be from the missing plane are handed over to the Ministry of Transport in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in November 2018. Only a few pieces of debris have been found. (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

“This is an important step to help narrow down the possible location of the aircraft,” Hattley said.

Malaysia’s prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has signalled a willingness to renew the search if compelling evidence emerges. 

Marine robotics company Ocean Infinity has also submitted a proposal to the Malaysian government to start searching again after its last attempt, in 2018, was unsuccessful. 

“My sense is at the end of this year, I think there’s going to be a scramble to see who can find it,” he said.

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