Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 unofficial disappearance theories

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Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) in 2012

Various unofficial theories have been proposed to explain the cause of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014. The disappearance remains unexplained and is under investigation. Many critics and experts have questioned several aspects of the Malaysian government's statements.

As long as the flight remains under investigation, alternate theories of varying credibility are expected. Although Najib Razak, Malaysia's Prime Minister, has stated publicly that the aircraft's flight ended somewhere in the Indian Ocean, no explanation for why this occurred has yet emerged.[1] In light of this, many explanations for its disappearance have been proposed.[2] Some of these alternative theories have been described as conspiracy theories.[3][4]


A number of alternate theories have arisen for the disappearance. Relatives of victims who have questioned the veracity of the Malaysian government's statements about the plane's demise, and organized a protest at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing with the goal of forcing the Malaysian government to reveal any withheld information about Flight 370's whereabouts. According to The Japan Times, however, there is no evidence to support these claims.[5]

Rob Brotherton, a lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, wrote that conspiracy theories emerge immediately after any catastrophe occurs and conclusive information about why it did so remains unavailable.[3] Andrew Leonard wrote that conspiracy theorists were bolstered by the revelation of new satellite data two weeks after the flight disappeared that had been hidden from the public.[6]

Other factors involve the lack of a distress signal from the plane.[7] According to Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times, critics of the Malaysian government's statements also found support in the Joint Agency Coordination Centre's announcement on May 29 that the plane was not in the search area authorities had been combing for the plane since April.[8]

Criticism and response[edit]

Cass Sunstein

Some critics[who?] claim that the official statement that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean makes no sense. They note that a Boeing 777 does not have the structural integrity to survive crashing into the ocean, and that it would be like hitting a cement wall at terminal velocity. If Flight 370 hit the ocean, they say, it would have been broken into tens of thousands of pieces, many of which float on water (such as the seat cushions) and would be witnessed washing up on regional shores or easily spotted by search teams.[9]

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein noted that the conflicting information initially disseminated by the Malaysian government explains the interest in alternate theories.[10] Sunstein, who has written on the topic, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on 20 March 2014, argued that conspiracy theories in general often are borne out of horrific and disastrous situations, because such events make people angry, fearful and looking for a "target."[10]

On 2 April 2014, in an interview with Robin Young, Sunstein stated:  "The first thing is just sadness for the people who've been lost or who've lost loved ones, so it's a tragic event. The second is just notice that conspiracy theories are often a reaction to a tragic event or an event that scares people. The human mind often gravitates to trying to figure out some kind of agent or force that's behind it all. The conditions for conspiracy theorizing are, first, uncertainty or at least arguable uncertainty, and second, an acute emotional state. It can get worse if people feel powerless, so people who are drawn to conspiracy theories often feel particularly powerless."[11]

David Soucie, a former FAA inspector, has said that the theories that have been put forth in this matter are important when there is a lack of knowledge, as the theories and notions help us to consider various possibilities. On 26 March 2014, he stated on CNN: "In an accident investigation, it's a critical part to come up with theories. Especially right now when we don't have anything. We don't have anything tangible. We don't have something to say, hey, yes – because we don't know where that airplane is and we need to find out why. If you take one theory, the airplane would be where we're looking at right now. If you take another theory, where there was nefarious intent, they're trying to avoid radars, the airplane could be somewhere else. If you say it was – whatever it is, you've got to use these theories, weigh them against the facts so you know which one to go to."[12]

Tim Black, deputy editor of Spiked, wrote:  "'s in this darkness, this near absence of knowledge [about MH370], that speculation has flourished,"[13] and an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times, not only stated that "conspiracy theories fill a vacuum when facts are scarce," but also urged governments to search for the plane to debunk these theories and give victims' family members peace of mind.[4]

The common hypothesis, cited also here, that MH370 avoided Indonesian radar is based only on a statement that the plane was not observed by Indonesia.[14] It is easy for radar observers to visually miss an unexpected object.


The possibility of a simple hijacking has been brought up by various news outlets, including ABC News and the Los Angeles Times.[15][16] Speculation has mounted about the possibility of a remote island that the hijackers took the plane to, although no group has stepped forward to confirm that it was them;[15] however, unofficial researchers have identified more than 600 possible runways at which the plane was capable of landing.[16] No confirmation has been received from Malaysian officials.[17]

Electronic hijacking[edit]

Electronic hijacking uses systems and programming already factory installed within the B777 Flight Management System. This is different to hacking or cyber-attack in that it requires access to the B777's security system through doors already programmed into the software coding (no hacking is required). Notable proponents of this theory include former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.[18] He said: "Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over uninterruptible control of commercial airliners of which MH370 B777 is one". In this statement he was referring to off-board hijackers with access to MH370's Flight Management System via the 2003 patented Uninterruptible Autopilot.

Jihad attack[edit]

Shortly after the aircraft disappeared, some news agencies reported that it may have been an act of terrorism,[19] possibly a Jihad attack.[20][21][22][23] Between 9 and 14 March 2014, media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Flight 370's disappearance "confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China [sic]." He later suggested the flight might have been hidden in northern Pakistan, "like Bin Laden". These remarks have not been confirmed, and were characterized as conspiracy theories by Shiv Malik in The Guardian.[24] The following month, the Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets endorsed a similar theory, claiming that "unknown terrorists" had hijacked the plane, flown it to Afghanistan, and then held the crew and passengers hostage.[25]

Acquisition of Freescale staff[edit]

A variety of social media posts and email chain letters claim that a patent (#8671381) was approved days after the disappearance of the MH370, and the right to the patent was split five ways - 20% to Freescale Semiconductor and 20% each to four employees, all of whom were passengers on the plane.[26] The patent deals with fabrication of integrated circuits on a semiconductor wafer. The urban myth website suggests that there is no evidence that the four inventors listed on the patent application were on the aircraft passenger list, nor that they were entitled to a 20% share of the patent, and describing as unlikely that their share would revert to Freescale on their death as presented in the email.[27]

Retired Delta Air Lines Captain Field McConnell claimed that the aircraft was seized to obtain stealth knowledge of classified patents from 22 Chinese employees of Austin-based Freescale. McConnell also claimed that the company has developed a classified technology that uses paint and electronics to enable traditional aircraft to be overhauled into stealthy jets.[28]

Diego Garcia[edit]

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that MH370 was either captured by the United States and then flown to the United States' military base on Diego Garcia[29] or that the plane landed at the base directly. The latter theory was raised at a White House daily briefing on 18 March, whereupon press secretary Jay Carney responded, "I'll rule that one out."[30] Underpinning the Diego Garcia theory were several elements, one of which was the co-pilot cell contact and the plane's westward turn, both of which were consistent with a flight path toward the island.

In a treatment of potential motives, Stone also suggested some of the Chinese engineers had key familiarity with a new Chinese operating system that would currently lack any back doors accessible by the United States NSA. Similar treatments of motive questioned the resulting legal passing of lucrative patent rights to a Rothschild-controlled Blackstone Group.[31] Under a variant motive account, an unattested claim of insider information aired on wide-circulation late night talk radio suggested that a February 2014 Taliban convoy hijacking resulted in the capture of drone control technology, which was sold to China via Malaysia and shipped on the plane. In this scenario, the United States and Israel planted agents on the plane who coordinated with an AWACS jammer to take it to Diego Garcia, offload the equipment, and remotely control it to the ocean again to mimic a real crash, with the passengers already dead for lack of oxygen.[32]

Phantom cellphone theory[edit]

Some have speculated that the passengers are still alive but cannot answer their cellphones—sometimes known as the "phantom cellphone theory". This was based on early reports that family members of Flight 370 passengers heard the passengers' phones ring after the plane disappeared.[33] This, however, has been rejected by Jeff Kagan, a wireless analyst, who in an email to NBC News explained that the network may still produce "ringbacks" as it searches for a connection, even if the cellphone has been destroyed.[34]

Crew suicide/hijacking[edit]

The cockpit had the mandated anti-hijacker fortified doors that could prevent locked-out crew or passengers from interfering with a suicide or hijacking into the Southern Ocean.[35] This can be compared to SilkAir Flight 185, a suspected pilot suicide incident in 1997.

The captain had made no commitments for culture events, family or friend meetings or other private or work commitments whatsoever, for the time after the plane disappearance. All other crew members had such plans. Furthermore it has been found that the captain had trained landing on an Indian Ocean island with short runway, using a flight simulator in his home computer.[36]

A book Goodnight Malaysian 370 to be published shortly by New Zealanders Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson blames the deliberate act of the pilot for the aircraft disappearance.[37][38]

The lack of discovered debris (after extensive searching) supports this theory, as only a plane with a conscious pilot at the controls would have a chance of ditching the airframe without it breaking up, and consequentially allowing it to sink in one piece, carrying all buoyant items with it.[39][not in citation given]

Cockpit or landing gear fire[edit]

In another recent incident involving a Boeing 777 on the ground, EgyptAir 667 suffered a cockpit fire while on the ground which destroyed the flight controls and flight instruments.[40] Malaysia Air's maintenance records for that 777 aircraft are required to include information on whether the FAA-mandated fix[41] to the wiring near the co-pilot's oxygen hose was performed.

A similar speculation is that the pilots attempted an emergency landing in Northern Malaysia, similar to an accident involving Nigeria Airways Flight 2120, where a tire caught fire on takeoff, and the later spreading of fire led to the destruction of the aircraft.[42]

Shoot-down theory[edit]

Rush Limbaugh, according to CNN, speculated that the aircraft may have been shot down.[43] Supporters of this theory have noted that civilian aircraft have been shot down by military forces in the past, with Iran Air Flight 655 by the United States in 1988, and KAL 007 by the Soviet Union in 1983; being two frequently cited.[15] There is no evidence that this happened specifically to Flight 370.[44] These theories were dismissed by a Malaysian defense official, Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad, who said it was "highly not possible" that his country's air force shot down the plane. According to the Financial Express, the Malaysian Air Force detected the plane on radar while it was in flight, but took no action because it was believed to be a "friendly" aircraft.[45]

In May 2014, author Nigel Cawthorne's book Flight MH370: The Mystery was published. It alleged that after a US-Thai joint strike fighter jet training drill shot down the jet, searchers intentionally were sent astray as part of a sophisticated cover-up.[46] It received considerable criticism, especially from The Australian where it was characterized thusly: "Cawthorne undoes everybody’s good work by retrieving every obsolete and discredited non-fact from the trash, slapping the whole lot between covers."[47]

In a CNN interview on 24 April 2014, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, stated only that the radar "tracked an aircraft which did a turn back, but they were not exactly sure whether it was MH370. What they were sure of was that the aircraft was not deemed to be hostile." [48] "Not being hostile" differs from believing it is a "friendly" aircraft.


The hypothesis that a cyberattack may have been carried out on Flight 370 has been raised, primarily based on statements made by Sally Leivesley, a former scientific advisor to the UK government.[49] Leivesley proposed that hackers may have changed the plane's speed, direction, and altitude using radio signals to the plane's flight management system.[50] Whether existing security on commercial flights is sufficient to prevent such an attack is also a matter of debate, although Boeing has dismissed the possibility. A spokeswoman for the company, Gayla Keller, said that they were "confident in the robust protection of all flight critical systems and inability for a hacker to gain access by either external or internal means on the 777 and all Boeing airplanes."[51]

Of worthy note, however, was that in 2007, in response to McConnell's law suit, Boeing admitted to having installed the Boeing Uninterruptible Autopilot, an anti-hijack patented technology. ATC[clarification needed], Boeing and military contractors have access to the system. Boeing's admission was reported in the mainstream media at the time.[52][53]

While supporters of this theory have cited Hugo Teso's app which hacked into pilot-training software, which Teso presented at a conference in April 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration and other major governmental bodies dismissed the significance of the app. They stated that the software on an actual plane would be different from the software on which Teso had tested his app.[54]

Black hole or meteor strike[edit]

Conspiracy theorists have also suggested that MH370 may have been consumed by a black hole. This theory received considerable attention when Don Lemon (right) asked, on CNN, whether it was "preposterous" that it could have happened.[55] Lemon was criticized for this by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show,[56] and by former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo, who, while appearing on CNN, said that "...a small black hole would suck in our entire universe so we know it's not that."[57]

Another hypothesis is that a meteor might have struck the plane; however, the statistical probability for this is extremely low.[58]

Alien abduction[edit]

According to, author and filmmaker Alexandra Bruce proposed that the flight had been captured by extraterrestrials. As evidence, she pointed to a YouTube video depicting a computer simulation of the plane's departure from Kuala Lumpur, which showed the simulated Flight 370 moving unusually fast.[33] However, journalist Jack Pickell also noted that the object in the simulation alleged to be a UFO is actually identified on the simulation's website as Korean Airlines Flight 672.[33] Pickell also quoted the site's CEO as saying that the plane's apparent supersonic speed in the simulation was probably the result of a system glitch.[33]

A poll posted on CNN's website reported that 9% of respondents thought it was either very or somewhat likely that the plane was abducted by aliens, "time travelers or beings from another dimension". The poll, which has since been removed from the website, led to CNN being criticized by Perez Hilton for "indulg(ing) any wackadoo theory that might be good for TV ratings or internet clicks!"[59]

Pitbull and Shakira[edit]

The suggestion that Pitbull and Shakira's song "Get It Started" displays prior knowledge of Flight 370's disappearance has been reported by The Independent. The lines cited most often by advocates of this conspiracy theory are "Now it's off to Malaysia" and "Two passports, three cities, two countries, one day".[60] The lyrics "No Ali, No Frasier, but for now off to Malaysia" were linked to 'Mr. Ali', who was referred to by the press as one of the Iranian passengers. Conspiracy theorists have linked the "two passports" to the stolen Austrian and Italian passports used by two passengers to board the plane.[61]


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