Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 unofficial disappearance theories

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In March 2014 MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew members for Beijing.[1] The flight disappeared between the two airports. Various unofficial theories have been proposed to explain the cause of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). 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, alternative 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.[2] In light of this, many explanations for its disappearance have been proposed.[3] Some of these alternative theories have been described as conspiracy theories.[4][5]


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.[6]

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.[4] 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.[7]

Other factors involve the lack of a distress signal from the plane.[8] 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 29 May that the plane was not in the search area authorities had been combing for the plane since April.[9]

Criticism and response[edit]

Internet sites like claim that the official statement that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean makes no sense.[10] 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.[11]

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein noted that the conflicting information initially released by the Malaysian government explains the interest in alternative theories.[12] 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."[12]

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."[13]

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."[14]

Tim Black, deputy editor of Spiked, wrote:  "'s in this darkness, this near absence of knowledge [about MH370], that speculation has flourished,"[15] 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.[5]

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.[16] 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.[17][18] Speculation has mounted about the possibility that hijackers took the plane to a remote island, although no group has stepped forward to confirm that it was them;[17] however, unofficial researchers have identified more than 600 possible runways at which the plane was capable of landing.[18] No confirmation has been received from Malaysian officials.[19]

Electronic hijacking[edit]

Electronic hijacking uses systems and programming already factory installed within the B777 flight management system. This is different from hacking or cyber-attack in that it requires access to the B777's security system through access purposefully programmed into the software. Notable proponents of this theory include former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.[20] 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.

Terrorist's attack[edit]

Shortly after the aircraft disappeared, some news agencies reported that it may have been an act of terrorism,[21] possibly a Jihad attack.[22][23][24][25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

North Korea[edit]

A story circulated on Reddit that MH370 had sufficient fuel to be hijacked to North Korea as was done in 1969 with Korean Air Lines YS-11.[28][29][30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

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 the atoll of Diego Garcia[34] in the B.I.O.T. 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."[35] 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 that vein, it was reported by The Mirror, without giving a concrete source, that the captain had trained landing on an Indian Ocean island with a short runway, using a flight simulator in his home computer.[36] These allegations were disproved by the FBI, which reported that after analyzing the impounded flight simulator that it found “nothing suspicious whatsoever” and said that The Mirror reports about the simulator's contents were "unsubstantiated and unsourced".[37][38]Giving a new twist to the MH370 missing story, a former French airline boss has claimed that the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by the US military near a U.S. military base on the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.[38]

Phantom cellphone hypothesis[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.[39] 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.[40]

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.[41] This can be compared to SilkAir Flight 185, a suspected pilot suicide incident in 1997 and LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 .

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah 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. The Mirror reported that the captain had trained landing on an Indian Ocean island with short runway, using a flight simulator in his home computer.[42] This was disproved by the final report about the analysis of this flight simulator made by FBI, which qualified The Mirror article of being "unsubstantiated and unsourced".[37][38]

A book Goodnight Malaysian 370 was published by New Zealanders Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson blaming a deliberate act of the pilot for the aircraft disappearance but admitted they were not able to "provide any conclusive evidence to support his theory" nor any motive.[43][44][45]

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.[46] Malaysia Air's maintenance records for that 777 aircraft are required to include information on whether the FAA-mandated fix[47] 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.[48]

Shoot-down theory[edit]

Political commentator Rush Limbaugh, according to CNN, speculated that the aircraft may have been shot down.[49] 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 examples.[17] On March 19, 2014, news agency reporter Scott Mayerowitz of Associated Press described "Accidental Shootdown" as one of seven "leading, plausible theories", but added that there was "no evidence that Flight 370 was brought down by a government entity".[50] A Malaysian defense official, Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad, said it was "highly not possible" that his country's air force had shot down the plane.[51] 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.[51]

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.[52] 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."[53] Relatives of those aboard Flight 370 criticized the book as "premature and insensitive".[54]

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." [55] "Not being hostile" differs from believing it is a "friendly" aircraft.[citation needed]

On December 22, 2014, the former head of Proteus Airlines, Marc Dugain, claimed that the plane may have been shot down by U.S. military personnel out of fear of an attack similar to the September 11 attacks on their Navy Base in Diego Garcia.[56] The claims were described by the source article as "wild",[56] and relied in part on evidence that has been largely discredited.[citation needed]


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.[57] Leivesley proposed that hackers may have changed the plane's speed, direction, and altitude using radio signals to the plane's flight management system.[58] 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."[59]

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. Air Traffic Controllers, Boeing and military contractors have access to the system. Boeing's admission was reported in the mainstream media at the time.[60][61]

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.[62]

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.[63] Lemon was criticized for this by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show,[64] 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."[65] (which "wasn't satisfied" with Schiavo's answer) obtained detailed reasons why a black hole couldn't swallow a plane from Columbia University astronomy professor David J. Helfand and Peter Michelson, a professor of physics at Stanford University, reasons which did not involve any suggestion that a small black hole could suck in the entire universe.[66] It is of course possible that Schiavo was simply expressing herself humorously, and did not expect to be taken literally.

Another hypothesis is that a meteor might have struck the plane; however, the statistical probability for this is extremely low.[67]

Alien abduction[edit]

According to, author and filmmaker Alexandra Bruce posted a video on her website, created by the active YouTube content creator who goes by the handle, DAHBOO77, which displayed radar recordings from a public online airplane tracking service, images that could be described for lack of better words, as an Unidentified Flying Object. It displayed briefly as disc-shaped and traveled at an extremely high rate of speed, next to the plane around the time of Flight 370's disappearance. In this article, she was incorrectly described as propounding the view that the flight had been captured by extraterrestrials, while her intended emphasis was that the radar anomaly displayed a flying object that remained for the moment, "Unidentified."

In a subsequent post, she shared the view of one of her subscribers that the odd disc-shape, which had appeared on the radar image during those crucial moments may have belonged to the classic antenna of an AWACS aircraft, one which may have been used to hijack the flight wirelessly (a.k.a. fly-by-wire). In her own words, the "unsubstantiated" motive, in this proposed scenario this was to prevent three of the four patent-holders of a breakthrough semiconductor chip, all of whom were aboard the flight to Beijing and all of whom were Chinese nationals, from allowing this technology to fall into the hands of the government of the People's Republic of China. The fourth owner of the patent is their erstwhile employer, Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. With the three other patent holders gone, ownership of the technology would revert fully to Freescale.

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!"[68]

Pitbull and Shakira[edit]

As an example of an Internet theory which they imply their readers should not take seriously,[nb 1] The Independent and the Huffington Post have reported the suggestion that Pitbull and Shakira's song "Get It Started" displays prior knowledge of Flight 370's disappearance.[69][70] 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".[70] 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, even though Malaysian authorities have confirmed that the 19-year-old passenger is actually called Pouria Nourmohammadi.[70][69] (In the song, "Ali" actually refers to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who beat another boxing legend, Joe Frazier, in the Thrilla in Manila on 1 October 1975).[71] Conspiracy theorists have linked the "two passports" to the stolen Austrian and Italian passports used by two passengers to board the plane.[69] The reliable sources for this story dismiss the lyrics as "mere coincidence"[70] and indicate that to take it seriously would be "a terrible idea",[69] with supporters of the theory being described as "Conspiracy Theorists" and "YouTube illuminati".[70]

MH17 and Air Asia Flight 8501 connections[edit]

On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. Because it, like Flight 370, was also a Boeing 777, some conspiracy theorists have suggested that the plane that crashed in Ukraine was actually Flight 370. This is based in part on photographs of the crash scene, which conspiracy theorists claim show that the plane that crashed in Ukraine had structural differences from MH17. Experts have dismissed this theory and argued that it is merely coincidental that both planes involved belonged to the same airline.[72]

When AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed on December 28, 2014, various similarities with MH370 were noted, including that both airlines were Malaysian-owned,[73][74] and that both planes lost contact with air traffic control.[75] There was also a reported conspiracy theory involving an alleged prediction on December 15, 2014 (and possibly repeated on December 16 and 17[73]), by a user of the Chinese website Tianya Club whose name was reported by the English-speaking media to be 'Landlord'. (However, this translation has been disputed[73]; the original Chinese forum[76] as well as Chinese news sites[77][78] cite the user's name as ”老百姓有自己的乐“, which can be translated as 'the common people have their own pleasures'. The Chinese term “楼主” can be translated into English as 'landlord', but in the context of Internet forums refers to the opener of a forum thread, referred to in English Internet slang as the 'original poster' or OP.) The user's post warned Chinese people to stay away from AirAsia as it would be attacked, as MH370 and MH17 allegedly had been (according to the user), as part of a conspiracy by a "black hand" or "despicable international bully" to harm Malaysian-owned airlines.[73][74] Other online posters suggested that the user was either a Chinese intelligence official or a hacker who had come across secret information.[73][74] Some skeptics suggested the user's posts or posting dates may have been retrospectively changed to create the false impression of a successful prediction.[73]


  1. ^ as indicated by expressions such as "that's a terrible idea" in The Independent,[69] and "Conspiracy Theorists" and "...according to the YouTube illuminati..." in the Huffington Post[70]


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    But The Wire wasn't satisfied with that answer. Just how dumb is the black hole theory? Based on answers from two experts, it is an extremely dumb theory.
    Even if a black hole capable of swallowing a plane out of the sky did exist, Peter Michelson, a professor of physics and Stanford University added, "a lot of other things would be missing as well." when asked for examples of what we'd notice missing, Michelson said, "probably the Earth."
    Currently, there are two general types of black holes: the kind that forms when a massive star dies, and a second type with a much larger mass. Those larger black holes exist in the centers of galaxies. The first type has a mass of about 3 to 30 times that of the Sun, while the larger ones are 1-1000 million times the Sun's mass. Helfand adds: "If either type of black hole came anywhere near Earth, they would swallow the entire solar system, not just a jet plane."
    The only other conceivable place black holes can form is in the Big Bang itself. While we have no evidence as yet that they did, they could , in principle, be of any mass. However, as Stephen Hawking showed many years ago, tiny black holes would have evaporated by now (through a process that is well-understood but too complicated to explain here)."
    "To show how silly this is," Helfand added, "a black hole, say, ten times the mass of a 777 (300,000 kg fully loaded) would be 0.0000000000000000000001 inches across (yes, that's 21 zeros)."
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  69. ^ a b c d e Hooton, Christopher (13 March 2014). "Malaysia flight MH370: Pitbull song lyrics bear uncanny resemblance to missing plane mystery, according to YouTubers". The Independent. Retrieved 24 March 2014. Ask YouTube commenters for the explanation behind Malaysia Airlines flight MH370's disappearance (actually don't, that's a terrible idea) and they'll tell you it can be traced back to Pitbull and Shakira's 2012 track "Get It Started". 
  70. ^ a b c d e f "Missing Malaysia Flight MH370 And Pitbull Song Lyrics Share An Uncanny Connection, According To Conspiracy Theorists". Huffington Post. 13 March 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2014. ...according to the YouTube illuminati ... So are the lyrics mere coincidence? Of course they are. 
  71. ^ "Pitbull mentions Pacquiao in latest single". 18 Sep 2012. Retrieved 27 Sep 2014. If there are still any lingering doubts about the global celebrity status of boxing icon Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, just ask rapper Pitbull. The popular recording artist included Pacquiao's name in the lyrics of his latest song, in the same breath as boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and even actor Tom Cruise. In his latest single "Get It Started" .... "...Thrilla in Manilla, knockin' em out like Pacquiao. New Ali, new Frazier but for now it’s off to Malaysia," he sings. 
  72. ^ De Castella, Tom (8 September 2014). "Malaysia Airlines MH370: The persistence of conspiracy theories". BBC News. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  73. ^ a b c d e f Tomlinson, Simon (December 30, 2014). "Mysterious Chinese blogger sparks online frenzy after 'predicting' that 'black hand' was going to bring down AirAsia jet THIRTEEN days before one vanished". Daily Mail Online. Retrieved January 2, 2015. Blogger warned on Dec 15 that 'AirAsia would be targeted by black hand' - Refers to a shadowy group he claims also sabotaged MH17 and MH370 - Peppered internet with 39 posts which have been viewed by 650k users - Some speculate that he could be Chinese intelligence official or a hacker - Sceptics say posts were likely edited after AirAsia 8051 went missing ... The Chinese version of the Epoch Times suggested the blogger called himself the 'Landlord' although some forum users claim this was a mistranslation. 
  74. ^ a b c Barrell, Ryan (December 30, 2014). "AirAsia QZ8501 Conspiracy Theories Are Already Starting To Appear". The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved January 2, 2015. 
  75. ^ "Missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 and MH370 share similarities according to aviation experts". December 29, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2015. 
  76. ^ "马航被搞垮后,黑手又伸向了亚航 (After Malaysia Airlines has been ruined, the black hand reaches towards AirAsia)". Tianya Club. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  77. ^ "大陆论坛惊现预言帖 两周前警告远离亚航(图) (Astonishing prediction revealed on Mainland Chinese forum that warned people to avoid AirAsia two weeks prior)". 文学城新闻频道 (Wenxuecity News Channel). 28 December 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 根据微博爆料,网名〝老百姓有自己的乐〞的网友于本月15日晚上8点15分在天涯社会发帖,帖子题目为《马航被搞垮后,黑手又伸向了亚航》 ... (According to news from Weibo, a netizen named 'the common people have their own pleasures' published a post on Tianya Club at 8.15pm on the 15th of that month [December], entitled 'After Malaysia Airlines has been ruined, the black hand reaches towards AirAsia'...) 
  78. ^ "“神帖”言中亚航失联 专家表示纯属偶然 ("Legendary" post correctly predicted AirAsia loss of contact: purely coincidental, say experts)". Xinhuanet. 1 January 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 发帖者“老百姓有自己的乐”劝所有乘客“远离亚航”。 (The poster 'the common people have their own pleasures' advised all passengers to 'avoid AirAsia'.) 

Further reading[edit]