Flight MH370

Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Saga of missing flight MH370 continues to pose more questions

Two weeks after its disappearance, there are more twists to come in the mystery of MH370

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 5:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 5:32am

If - and it's a big if - the latest images from a Chinese satellite turn out to be wreckage from flight MH370, it won't mark the end of the mystery, just a cruel new twist to a story which has been short on facts and long on theories.

That a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER aircraft bound for Beijing with 239 people on board vanished from sight over the South China Sea in the early hours of March 8 is indisputable. But the absence of facts has left a void readily filled with rumour, claim and wild speculation.

It seems inconceivable in a world which boasts satellites capable of reading vehicle license plates that a passenger jet can simply disappear.

In what has often seemed a desperate and confused search for the truth, every passenger, crew member and person with a direct connection to the flight has come under scrutiny, spawning an abundance of theories, from the wildly conspiratorial political revenge hijacking and mistaken shooting down of the plane, to the obvious terrorist outrage explanation and the more prosaic technical malfunction.

In fact, much of the last 15 days has been more about debunking theories and correcting misinformation than the production of cold, hard, facts.

Following the early disclosure that two passengers used stolen passports to board the plane, officials suspected a terrorist attack until the two Iranian men were found to have no known terror links. The two Iranians were most likely illegal immigrants.

Not long after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that new evidence of the airliner's movements pointed to a deliberate diversion of the plane, authorities raided the homes of 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and 27-year-old first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid and seized a flight simulator that Zaharie built which contained files of landing locations in the Indian Ocean.

Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat, an aviation engineer on the flight, also came under suspicion. Khairul's father has denied any possibility his son is linked to the plane's disappearance. His employers said he specialised in business jets, and would not have had the technical skills to divert a commercial aircraft.

Again, authorities have not completely ruled out hijacking, but so far, no organisation has claimed responsibility.

The main focus, according to Malaysian acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein, has been to reduce the area of search. But the area has expanded from the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, first to the Strait of Malacca, then to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean, and northwards to Kazakhstan - roughly one tenth of the planet.

Laboratory analysis of oil slicks found off the coast of Malaysia on March 8 came back negative; Chinese satellite imagery on March 12 of possible debris between Malaysia and Vietnam was also a false alarm; and the two objects suspected to be linked to MH370, also from satellite imaging, announced by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have yet to be found after three days of searching.

Yesterday Hishammuddin relayed a message delivered to him in the daily press briefing that Chinese satellites had picked up a large object near the southern Indian Ocean. It is not known if it is one of the objects announced by the Australian prime minister.

Malaysian officials maintain that as long as the plane is not found in pieces, there is still hope for the families of passengers. The families are also hopeful that as long as no bodies are found, their loved ones may still be alive.

If MH370 were found with no survivors, it would become the deadliest commercial aircraft accident in 10 years.


Two weeks of rumours, false leads:

MARCH 8, 7.24am: Malaysia Airlines confirms a jet lost contact with air traffic control at 2.40am after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

10.30am: Families waiting at Beijing airport are told passengers will not arrive.

NIGHT: International rescue effort is under way. Two passengers used passports - one Austrian, one Italian - reported stolen in Thailand. Airline does not rule out terrorism.


MARCH 9, 2am: Airline says it last heard from flight MH370 at 1.30am, not 2.40am.

NOON: Hong Kong Immigration Department confirms 45-year-old local woman was on board.


MARCH 10: The largest rescue flotilla in Chinese naval history - four warships and five civilian and commercial vessels - speeds overnight to waters between Malaysia and Vietnam. Ten Chinese satellites join hunt.

NIGHT: Airline announces it will give 31,000 yuan (HK$39,200) to relatives of each passenger as a special condolence payment.


MARCH 11: Two Malaysian military officials say jet flew for an hour off flight course and at a lower altitude after vanishing from civil aviation radar. Interpol identifies two Iranians as holders of stolen passports.


MARCH 12: Beijing slams Malaysia's "pretty chaotic" and conflicting information as Kuala Lumpur officials fail to pinpoint the plane's last known whereabouts.


MARCH 13: Malaysian military confirms spotting unidentified aircraft on its radar about 1 hour and 20 minutes after MH370's signal went cold. Airline says it has not been determined if that was the missing jet.


MARCH 14: Investigators are increasingly certain the jet turned back across the Malay Peninsula after losing communication. International search expands westwards towards Indian Ocean.


MARCH 15: Search narrows to two air corridors as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirms plane kept flying after it "vanished". Officials also confirm the jet's disappearance was a "deliberate act".


MARCH 16: Search shifts to Indian Ocean with satellite data showing the plane flew for seven hours after it lost contact. Pilot's background under renewed scrutiny after a flight simulator is found at his home.


MARCH 17: Possible new timeline of when plane shut off its communication systems as airline reveals last words from cockpit, spoken by co-pilot, were: "All right, good night". A flight engineer who was a passenger comes under investigation.


MARCH 18: Disappearance is longest in modern aviation history. US officials confirm they are working closely with the Malaysian government. Relatives of passengers threaten hunger strike due to lack of information; Beijing rules out sabotage by its nationals.


MARCH 19: Authorities in the Maldives investigate reports that residents saw a low-flying jet. Three million people join crowd-sourcing satellite hunt as search area expands to 26 countries.


MARCH 20: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirms two large pieces of possible wreckage spotted in the southern Indian Ocean. Beijing says plane did not enter Chinese territory, according to its data.


MARCH 21: Bad weather hampers search efforts more than 2,000 kilometres off west coast of Australia.


MARCH 22: Malaysian authorities say a transcript of the final 54 minutes of cockpit communication published by The Daily Telegraph in Britain is inaccurate. Chinese authorities say their satellites spotted a large object in the southern Indian Ocean.