First, our hearts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those aboard MH370. Second, at this point, before the recovery of black boxes, one can only speculate as to what happened to cause this flight to disappear. But initial indications point to a catastrophic break-up of the aircraft at altitude, an extremely rare occurrence. The airline is still treating the flight as “missing”.
What we know as of this writing:
- Malaysian Airlines flight 370 took off at 12:41am Saturday from Kuala Lumpur en route for Beijing. The aircraft was a 12 year old Boeing 777-200 that was current on its maintenance inspections. The flight was carrying 239 passengers and crew. Flight tracking information and maps can be found here.
- At approximately 1:30am, the flight disappeared from radar, and no radio transmissions were received from pilots. Recent media reports indicate that the pilot may have attempted to turn the aircraft back towards Kuala Lumpur based on ground radar data, but those tapes have not been released. There is also uncertainty as to the timing of when last communications with the aircraft were made, because another aircraft tried to contact the flight at ATC request.
- Two oil slicks were discovered Saturday night about 87 miles from the Vietnam coast which could be an indication of where the aircraft went down. These have subsequently been discounted.
- On Sunday, a search aircraft spotted wreckage that could be from the aircraft approximately 65 miles south southwest of Tho Chu island. That wreckage was described as what could be a interior piece of a door and a piece of the tail. That debris was located near the intended flight path of the aircraft. The debris has been found and is unrelated to the aircraft.
- Two passengers on the aircraft apparently had stolen passports, fueling the speculation that foul play cannot be ruled out. Additional passengers are also being investigated for apparent security breaches. At this stage there is nothing to tie the aircraft’s disappearance to these people. But it is a cause for concern and one of the primary sources of Chinese anger directed at Malaysia and the airline and airport.
- 45 ships and 22 aircraft are currently involved in the search, and countries involved in territorial contention and tensions in the region are fully cooperating with each other in this investigation.
- As of this writing, the “black boxes” have not yet been recovered.
- The 777 has an exemplary safety record, with only two major incidents, an incident several years ago in London when Rolls-Royce engines experienced frozen fuel lines, causing a BA aircraft to land short of the runway at London Heathrow, injuring 45, and the fatal crash of an Asiana 777-200ER last year in San Francisco due to pilot error and lack of proper coordination in the cockpit.
- There is a report that an Uighur group is taking credit for the missing aircraft, with indications that it may be in retaliation for Chinese actions. The Uyghur are a Muslim minority in Northwest China, abutting other Islamic areas that were annexed by China in 1949, and have been seeking independence. They were blamed for a violent attack at a Chinese railway station last week.
- Media reports indicate a senior source in Malaysia indicated that “the fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet” and that that theory has become the focus of the investigation.
What we don’t know is what really happened, and until remains of the aircraft, and the data recorders are found, we, and everyone else, can only speculate as to the possibilities.
For those interested in listening to a podcast we did in 2011 post the AF447 accident, and how careful one has to be immediately after such an event, please click here.