The lack of information surrounding the plane’s disappearance has sparked much curiosity over the years. But now we might finally know what happened five years ago.
At 12:41 AM on March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
At 1:08 AM the flight crossed the Malaysian coastline and set out across the South China Sea in the direction of Vietnam. Captain Zaharie reported the plane’s level at 35,000 feet.
Eleven minutes later, as the airplane closed in on a waypoint near the start of Vietnamese air-traffic jurisdiction, the controller at Kuala Lumpur Center radioed, “Malaysian three-seven-zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one-two-zero-decimal-nine. Good night.” Zaharie answered, “Good night. Malaysian three-seven-zero.”
He did not read back the frequency, as he should have, but otherwise the transmission sounded normal. It was the last the world heard from MH370. The pilots never checked in with Ho Chi Minh again or answer any subsequent calls. For five years, this is the extent of information we have had.
Due to the initial flight route and the radio signals, the search was concentrated in the South China sea, where no signs of the plane were found. The initial failed attempts started the search anew. Within a matter of days, primary-radar records salvaged from air-traffic-control computers which were partially corroborated by secret Malaysian air-force data revealed that as soon as MH370 disappeared from secondary radar, it turned sharply to the southwest, flew back across the Malay Peninsula, and banked around the island of Penang.
This caused the search to extend into the Indian Ocean, which eventually lead to a couple of pieces of debris being found in places like Madagascar. Furthermore, because no reasonable explanation could be given for the deviated route, speculation about what happened to the plane only grew.
The search was also hampered because this information was known only to the Malaysian government, but was not passed on to the international search party, delaying the search properly.
At the beginning of the search, many suspected the Malaysian government was not able to handle the search. It was later discovered that they may not have been able to handle the plane itself. Malaysia Airlines not only released misleading information, but they did so before contacting MH370. They did not make the first attempt until 2.39 am, the investigation team revealed, saying that the missing aircraft was assumed to be in Cambodian airspace until 3.30 am, when a correction came through. Protocol is to send two military grade aircrafts to see why a flying object is in their airspace.
“Malaysia Airlines Operations Centre informed Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre the flight tracker information was based on flight projection and not reliable for aircraft positioning. Another two hours then passed until Kuala Lumpur activated Air Search and Rescue”, the external investigation explained. While this doesn’t really answer what happened to the plane, it does show that systems that were set in place were not followed, allowing for this mystery to be the way it is. If the Malaysian government had told everyone about the changing route initially, the search would have been conducted in the correct location, potentially finding the black box.
With the initial confusion of what happened, many were quick to jump to a number of different possibilities. No engine failures were recorded and no distress call was made. Many have assumed that the deviation from route and disappearance was deliberate. Terrorism was a top contender, especially after it was revealed that two of the passengers were travelling on fake passports. However, this theory was dismissed, as both were asylum seekers.
Pilot suicides are a rare and unpredictable occurrence. It was suggested during the initial investigation, but the Malaysian government dismissed it.
However, a recent report released by the Atlantic in the US suggests otherwise.
Shah’s friends and family informed The Atlantic that the 53-year-old pilot “was often lonely and sad.” His marriage had dissolved, and his children were grown and out of the house. Shah also told friends he spent the days between flights pacing empty rooms alone in one of his two homes. He spent a lot of time contacting young women on Facebook, according to The Atlantic’s report.
“He is known to have established a wistful relationship with a married woman and her three children, one of whom was disabled, and to have obsessed over two young internet models, whom he encountered on social media, and for whom he left Facebook comments that apparently did not elicit responses,” The Atlantic reported.
The most damning of evidence was the flight simulation found in his house, which showed that he had tried a similar route to that of MH370 which was never completed.
According to reports, the plane rose to over 40,000 feet, which can cause the cabin to depressurize-making everyone fall unconscious and slowly asphyxiate to death, except the pilot. The reason for this is because the oxygen masks for passengers have only 15 minutes of oxygen, while the pilots have an endless supply. The plane then leveled back to it’s normal altitude speed, then cruised for hours before crashing. No one knows if the depressurization killed the pilot or not, and whether the return to normalcy was due to auto-pilot. It’s unclear whether the pilot let the plane go on for hours, or directly crashing it into the ocean.
While Pilot suicides are rare and unpredictable, there were signs that Shah was depressed. His family was breaking apart, he was trying to carry out affairs on the internet and so on. But it isn’t just him. Being a pilot makes you prone to feeling isolated. The constant exposure to altitude changes can also cause more drastic changes in mood and emotions. Couple that with the lifestyle of a pilot, which is usually separated from their families, makes pilots more prone to mental health issues. Which is why airlines have constant mental health evaluations. But clearly Malaysian Airlines missed the signs.
What happened with MH370 shows to us the importance of people doing their job vigilantly. If Malaysian Airlines had followed protocol, they would have sent the military to go check out the plane when it was detected going off-course. Or if they had transferred the proper information, the black-box may have been found, and many people would have known what happened to their loved ones. And if the mental health tests had been able to detect the Captain’s state of mind, they could have prevented him from flying.