The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Separating Fact from Fiction

March 23, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Since its disappearance in the early hours of March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been at the center of a major investigation and search effort by multiple countries, as well as intense speculation within the international community about the fate of the missing Boeing 777.

The Beijing-bound flight departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time on March 8 with 227 passengers and 12 crew members onboard. The plane made its last contact with air-traffic controllers about 40 minutes  after takeoff and was last seen by radar two hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur. The pilot’s last voice communication with air-traffic control was the last human contact between the ground and anyone on board the plane.

When the flight did not reach Beijing at its scheduled arrival time of 6:30 a.m., what was originally thought to be a simple radio malfunction quickly became a much deeper mystery. At 7:24 a.m. on March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement saying that Flight 370 had  “lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control” and that authorities have “activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft.”

Since then, no one has been able to pinpoint exactly what happened to Flight 370. Reports from the first week of investigation contradicted each other on crucial details, such as whether the missing plane was detected by Malaysian military radar over the Strait of Malacca, and how long the plane remained airborne after its transponder system had ceased operating.

However, after over two weeks of investigation, a number of facts have been established regarding the timeline of the jet’s disappearance:

At 1:07 a.m., the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or Acars, made its last scheduled report.

At 1:19 a.m., a person presumed to be the plane’s co-pilot signed off with the message “All right, good night,” which was the last communication between the plane and air traffic control. The plane was reported to be flying over the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand at this point.

At 1:22 a.m., the plane’s transponder blacked out or was turned off.

At 1:28 a.m., Thailand Radar spotted an unidentified plane off the coast of Kota Bharu, a city in northeastern Malaysia near Thailand’s border. The plane was reported to be crossing the Malay Peninsula towards the Strait of Malacca.

Around the same time period, between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m., there were reports that 11 people in various areas near the Malaysia-Thailand border said they had seen a low-flying plane.   However, officials have not been able to determine whether these individuals had in fact seen the plane.

Between 1:30 a.m. and 2:40 a.m., Malaysian military radar detected an unidentified plane believed to be MH370 flying over the peninsula towards the Strait of Malacca. The last-known radar contact was made at 2:40 a.m., at which time the plane was reported to be at the northern end of the Strait.

Between 3:11 a.m. and 8:11 a.m., the plane’s Airplane Health Management system, a troubleshooting and maintenance tool that is installed on Boeing 777 aircraft, continued to transmit hourly signals to an Inmarsat satellite while the plane was apparently still in the air.  However, this does not necessarily mean that the aircraft was still in flight during that time, as planes are capable of transmitting signals after a landing or crash.

At 8:11 a.m., the last AHM transmission occurred.

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