Nine years ago, a Malaysian airliner carrying 239 passengers and crew vanished from air traffic control screens over the South China Sea. Search officials were never able to locate the plane or those aboard. For the family members of the disappeared, it was a tragedy all the more painful for remaining unexplained; for investigators, it was a riddle unlike any they had ever encountered.
But the disappearance of MH370 is just the start of the story. Because in the years that have followed, another dimension of the mystery has opened up. It’s become evident that the scant clues available in the case have somehow led investigators astray. It isn’t just that we don’t know where the plane is. We don’t know why we don’t know.
Why does this matter now, nearly a decade after the event and five years after the Malaysian government closed its investigation? Planes as large and modern as MH370 don’t just disappear. Consider the case of TWA800, which blew up off the coast of Long Island in 1996. At the time, it was a mystery as baffling as that of MH370, and American investigators spent years collecting every scrap of debris from the ocean floor and painstakingly piecing it together in an empty hangar. By the time they were done, they had reassembled the fuselage from hundreds of jagged fragments. And in doing so, they were able to solve the mystery: The plane had suffered an accidental fuel-tank explosion. Planes built since then has incorporated safety measures to make sure the same accident doesn’t happen again.
If we can’t figure out what happened to MH370, we can’t say that something like it won’t happen again. The entire commercial aviation industry has an asterisk next to it.
To the casual observer, it’s not surprising that investigators didn’t find the plane. The ocean is a big place, after all. But the failure of the search actually is surprising. The reason why requires some mathematical heavy lifting to fully understand, as I explain in my 2019 book, The Taking of MH370. But the upshot is simple: the fact that the plane hasn’t been found means that investigators must have made a major error. In my estimation, MH370: The Plane That Disappeared is the first documentary to clearly and compellingly explain what we know about the Boeing 777 and what might have happened to it. My hope is that, with the renewed attention around the tragedy, the officials responsible for the search will finally reassess their conduct of the investigation and make a serious effort to understand where they went wrong.
The basics of the case are simple enough. MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia shortly after midnight on March 8, 2014 for a scheduled red-eye to Beijing. It flew out over the South China Sea and then, just seconds after it passed the last waypoint in Malaysian airspace, the plane’s communication systems were switched off. Still being observed by Malaysian military radar, the plane pulled a U-turn, flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then back up the Strait of Malacca towards India. It then flew out of radar range and disappeared again.
At this point the plane was more or less invisible to the rest of the world. Whoever took the plane could have flown it wherever they wanted to in secrecy. But that’s not what happened. Instead, something bizarre and inexplicable took place. A component of the plane’s satellite communication system called the SDU (Satellite Data Unit) came back to life three minutes after the plane vanished from radar. Why is this strange? Because 777 pilots are not trained how to turn the SDU on, and there’s no plausible way it could have come on accidentally. But come on it did, leaving the plane in an electrical configuration that no 777 has ever been in before or since.
It’s important to understand that the satellite communication data didn’t transmit coordinates, like a GPS. Rather, it allowed investigators to simulate flight paths the plane might have taken and compare the signals those paths would have generated with the signals actually recorded. The investigators generated millions of possible routes, then threw out all the ones that didn’t match the data. What they were left with was a patch in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane might have come to rest.
At this point, the authorities conducting the search were confident they would find the plane. Officials from Australia, China and Malaysia vowed that they would keep searching until the plane was found. Over the next few years, these governments funded a search of unprecedented difficulty, scanning a region of seabed the size of Great Britain at depths of up to three miles deep, until all the plane’s plausible end points were exhausted.
To their bafflement, the plane was nowhere to be found. And they couldn’t explain why. So the search officials broke their pledge to the public, and gave up. The last search ship left the area in 2018.
It very much looks like the plane didn’t actually go into the southern Indian Ocean. How could this be?
One possible explanation is that the SDU was tampered with, which would have changed where officials would have looked. Even now, no one has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation how it could have been turned on, either accidentally or through benign intention.
No one should think that attitude is acceptable. The case is too important to just let go. It requires a total commitment.
Nine years is a long time, but it’s still important that we solve this mystery. We don’t just owe it to future airline travelers. We owe it to the victims and their family members who expressed their despair and frustration about the unresolved mystery. They feel that they are not being told the full truth and that the authorities haven’t made a wholehearted effort to explain what happened. I happen to agree with them. I hope that MH370: The Plane That Disappeared will encourage the public to demand a full and complete reassessment of investigators’ past efforts.
The families deserve better. We all do.
This story originally ran on Tudum on March 8, 2023.
128 thoughts on “Tudum: Nearly a Decade Later, Why Looking for MH370 Still Matters”
None of the scenarios in the Netflix series accounts for the fact that no passenger sent a text message or left a voicemail when oxygen masks supposedly dropped when cabin lost pressure. Not a single one out of 239 people alerted family, friends or loved ones that some sort of emergency was happening to them onboard the flight. That, to me, defies all logic and expectation of how scared humans behave. Has this lack ever been appropriately explained?
Elle, The question of cell phones has gotten a lot of attention over the last week so I’ve talked to a couple of wireless network experts. To hear them tell it, it’s not surprising that no cell connections were made, because cell towers in 2014 were not designed to provide upward coverage. Rather, the surprising thing is that the first officer’s phone connected at all at Penang.
First, thank you Jeff for continuing to come up with new ideas even with the backlash. It is so important for people to see that info should be challenged, never accepted at face value, and that it is ok to be wrong and come back with refined ideas and fresh possibilities.
Second, a question about the cell phones. I’m not very knowledgeable in this area but I was thinking… If someone calls a cell and it rings, even if no one picks up, does that not mean the phone is at least on? That is, if a phone is off (i.e., powered off manually or destroyed, say, in a catastrophic impact or interference), would it not go directly to voicemail? My thought is that if next of kin tried to call plane passengers during the initially period the plane went missing, if any calls rang and did not go to voicemail directly, would that not suggest the plane was likely intact and possibly rule out a physical act of destruction like a crash, or potentially create a window of time where the plane could not have been destroyed? For example, if it was forced to land somewhere but people could not access their phones? If so, the plane could have been destroyed (phones included) later on but as long as incoming calls support that phones were ON, it would also support a timeframe for the status of the plane and possibly lend insight into its location.
Amanda, Thank you. Regarding cell phones, this question has come up quite a bit lately. It seems that the fact that the phones ring doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re active on a network somewhere.
First excuse my English, I’m Brazilian and I don’t have much knowledge in the language!
What brings me doubts is about the possibility of American Boeings having intercepted the plane’s communication. If they were close to MH-370, wouldn’t satellites from nearby countries be able to track them?
And if the pilot was under American threat during the flight, how were they communicating with him when the communicators were turned off?
Barbara, You raise some excellent points. I think that there are a lot of reasons not to take Florence’s theory very seriously.
Hi Jeff i just watch the Netflix documental, what caught my atención why no one ever look for the debris on the place the lost comunicación Florence has the most lógical theory and úntil now if those images seen in the satélite no one has ever looked there why they havent look they only believe why the inmarsat told
Hi Jackeline, I address that question in my recent video posted here.
Hi Jeff, thanks for your research. I think if plane would’ve gone north instead of south or had followed its original path and had entered any country’s airspace, then that country would’ve alarmed it. So I feel, whatever had happened, it was concluded in the international waters before entering any country’s airspace. Having said that, MH370 changed its course, proves deliberate manual intervention inside the plane and some debris found in Indian Ocean. I feel the plane crashed if not in Indian Ocean then in South China Sea because its difficult to suppress truth if anything happened inside any country’s airspace. Atleast anyone would’ve found out by now.
Please excuse me for my bad English language.
Did anyone outsider examined the Malaysian military radar logs? Or we just accepted what they said?
Hi to all, I’ve watched the series on Netflix and one thing that was interesting is the phone call that someone received from her dad if I’m not mistaken. If the plane was missing already how did she even got a call that time and from where?
@Jeff, I have a question and would like to know your opinion about it. The transcript shows that someone [most likely the Capt.] made two calls to Lumput Radar. Have a look at these calls.
“01:01:14 (MAS 370) Malaysian three seven zero, maintaining level three five zero.
01:01:19 (ATC) Malaysian three seven zero.
The last transmission by the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which relays critical information on the plane’s mechanical condition every 30 minutes, occurs at 1:07 am.
01:07:55 (MAS 370) Malaysian… three seven zero maintaining level three five zero.
01:08:00 (ATC) Malaysian three seven zero.”
The actual transfer to the next ATC happened at;
“01:19:24 (ATC) Malaysian three seven zero contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal nine. Good night.
01:19:29 (MAS 370) Good night, Malaysian three seven zero.”
The capt was calling almost 20 minutes before the Radar controller and provoking him to make this switch because otherwise there was no need to make these two calls telling the controller that I was flying at FL350.
I think at this time, he was alone in the cockpit and read to act as soon he got the permission to switch because, at that, he would be off from Lumpra Radar, plus have time and space to perhaps use Autopilot for turning back and do other things like switching off communication and putting his oxygen mask on, etc. So he may have to consider using this extra 20 Minutes if he gets the frequency switch early to do things quickly. Yet this time controller did not budge, and he had to wait till 1:20 am when he was almost at the end of the lumbar radar boundary. This could solve the mysterious manual aggressive turnback, which some suggested was done without Autopilot.
What do you think about this scenario?
Rustam, That scenario is plausible, were one to speculate that the captain was the culprit. But it doesn’t really explain any data that can’t be explained otherwise. For instance, it might simple have been an unnecessary call. Remember that the co-pilot was on his first flight as a first officer and so might have made the call just for the sake of it. There’s nothing that unusual about making calls that aren’t strictly by the book.
Marios, That story seems a little suspicious to me. If my loved one was on a missing plane, and my phone rang and their name came up, I wouldn’t run around asking strangers, “What should I do?”
It’s easy to forget from the distance of nine years’ time, but when the plane first went missing there were all kinds of rumors floating around that later proved to be untrue.
Pratik, You raise an excellent point. As a lot of people have suggested since the very beginning, if the plane went north, then it should have been picked up by the radar systems of every country it passed over. Or should it have? I decided to check out how much of planet Earth really is under radar surveillance 24/7, and it turns out to be less than you might think. I did a country-by-country assessment here:
Thanks for the quick reply. I heard the tapes and used an AI tool a few months ago to analyze Pilots’ voices. It seems to me that, initially, Farooq was handling the communications. But once they reached the FL350, it was definitely the Capt. Shah. We have his voice sample from his youtube videos which could be used to analyze it.
I am just saying that for a veteran pilot like him, this information that the switch would be in the next 20 or 25 minutes could give him an idea to provoke the Radar controller bit earlier to get more time to do things as he may have had planned. Twenty minutes is a very long time to do things in a cockpit with finite numbers of buttons and switches and, depending on the context, is enough to execute a plan.
you’ll find the aircraft if you re-create every aspect of that night…the passengers…their luggage…the cargo…use the data provided on its course from take off until the last satellite communication…make dummies as close to the heights and weights of the passengers…put those dummies in the correct seats as per the manifest…put the exact amount of fuel…do everything including the weather and headwinds or at least as close as possible…station ships and use aircraft to track this…then have boeing and Malaysian airlines split the cost of sending an unmanned B777 up and follow the course…video tape and have ships ready to witness the plane crash into the ocean…then you’ll have a reasonable idea where the debris would go…what suitcases would float…how the debris would sink…spend weeks and months tracking the debris and follow its course…use gps locators on every dummy and every suit case…re-create this event and you should have a very educated guess as to where the debris and such would have gone and where the plane is…if you don’t find anything in this location, or find a reasonable way that all debris sank and all suitcases and such sank…then the story of flight 370 is a lie.
Elliot, People have proposed variations of this idea before, especially with regards to testing the Inmarsat data. However, each flight is going to be different — the weather will be different, the satellite will be in a different place in its orbit, and so forth.
Been following this for years and always kept up with your posts – was a bit sad when it went a bit dark on here for several years MH370 wise but pleased there is a fresh wave to prompt debate.
I’ve followed your theories, read Florence de Changy book (didn’t buy their theory) and followed Richard Godfrey’s work along with numerous other contributors, well known and not so well known.
With relation to the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter technology theory, I saw this theory for the first time on the 60 minutes Australia feature. It does indicate the plane was in a holding pattern off Indonesia, indicating the pilot may have been in touch / negotiating with authorities.
Additionally Tony Abbott the Australian Prime Minster has indicated very early on (within a week) that Malaysian authorities had indicated it was murder / suicide by the pilot which would corroborate the holding pattern theory, with the authorities very much in the know as to what happened and in process of cover up etc.
First question is why do you find the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter technology theory ‘nonsense?’ If you could provide your view as to why I would really appreciate it, as I’ve heard the evidence for the theory but would like the counter argument from you.
And 2nd question is regarding SDU being switched back on manually, which has never been done before or since in commercial aviation… do you still believe the plane flew North and if so how do you explain the multiple debris washing up on the coast of Reunion / Africa etc.
At this stage, it just feels like the simplest explanation might be the correct one – pilot took over plane, holding pattern, flew south, plane ran out of fuel, crashed, debris washes up in exact place it was expected to, plane just hasn’t been found yet due to terrain on ocean floor.
I love a good conspiracy theory, but after 9 years I feel like it might just be something simple. Happy for you to bring me back down the rabbit hole though.
Many thanks Jeff, keep up the great work.
Mark, Here’s a post that argues against Godfrey’s idea having any merit.
As for the debris washing up, I don’t think it would be hard at all to plant debris. True, it would take a lot of advance planning to fake debris that has 15 months of marine life on it. But as it happens, the debris only has marine life that’s about a month old, as I described here: http://jeffwise.net/2018/02/08/mh370-debris-fouling-supports-spoof-scenario/
I understand the appeal of a simple theory, but in order for one to work in this case it requires a series of fantastical coincidences, like happening to fall into a crevices in the seafloor. Not impossible, but unlikely enough that we should look at other scenarios.
Thanks Jeff, really appreciate the quick response.
Appreciate the links, nice bit of Sunday afternoon reading commenced!
Mark, that’s great. Enjoy!
Robert, I would imagine that we all just have to take their word for it, given that it’s declassified into.
I just want to know about the cellphone that got called by someone in the plane. Why hasn’t anyone tracked that call, where it came from.
Why is no one checking in the South-China sea where the woman found pieces from the plane on satelite-photos?
Hey Katrine, These are very often-asked questions, so I made the video at the top of my page to answer them.
Hi Jeff, did you read my comment? FB reminded me of the incident of me getting these strange calls and the number I noted down was +09401683506 and +09420743741
@Jeff if Aircraft was ditched at slow speed after 4 hours of flight and let’s say it remained floating for few hours, will it create the same InmarSat data as the earth is rotating or the Satellite as it may be moving?