Speculations abound after Malaysia Airlines flight disappears

by Hannah Benson, ’15

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing March 8. The plane left from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. the same day. It lost contact with air controllers in Subang at 1:30 a.m. and made a left turn that sent it out over the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles off course and heading in the wrong direction. Its last known position was west of Perth, Australia, in a remote swath of the Indian Ocean with no possible landing sites nearby. The plane’s exact location remains unknown.

The two emergency locator beacons, or “black boxes,” aboard the plane have a shelf life of 30 days. They record what happens aboard the cockpit, which means they most likely hold answers about what happened to MH370, according to TIME. They are designed to emit distinct high-pitched pings as soon as they come into contact with water. Ships from around the world have been trying to scout the pings emitted by these boxes before their batteries die. With 30 days already passed, the likelihood of finding the plane is shrinking, according to Daily Mail. The most promising lead comes from a pinger locator deployed by the Australian Navy. It detected two strong signals consistent with those of MH370 in the Indian Ocean. In the week that followed, other ships detected three more–although the validity of the fifth has been called into question.

Retired Australian defense force chief Angus Houston feels optimistic about this new development.

“This is a most promising lead and probably in the search so far, it’s probably the best information that we have,” Houston said in a statement on April 7.

Houston believes the next step is to find wreckage from the plane itself, although the likelihood of finding anything from the plane on the ocean surface now is very low.

So far, two vessels have retrieved debris from where the plane is believed to have crashed, but none of the findings have been confirmed to relate to MH370.

Experts remain divided on the cause of the crash. The plane did not have extra fuel on board, therefore many believe it plummeted due to lack of fuel. However, no one can say for certain why the plane flew so off course in the first place. U.S. officials believe the captain and co-pilot may have been responsible. ABC News reported that the plane’s sharp left turn was preprogrammed into the plane’s navigation computer. Mary Schiavo, former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspection General, believes the turn could have occurred to reach a less pressurized area where the passengers and crew could breathe without oxygen masks.

The way the plane landed may affect its current location. If it plunged into the ocean at an angle almost perpendicular with its surface, the plane would have sunk in almost one piece, and any debris that lingered on the surface would descend soon after. If the plane eased into the water at a gentle angle, debris would be widespread and visible.

10 military aircrafts, 13 ships and four civil aircrafts are taking part in the search for physical remnants of the plane. More and more submarines will be deployed to search for wreckage on the ocean floor when the search area has been sufficiently narrowed down. Now, the search area is 230 square miles large.

Oceanographer Erik van Sebille feels that the search will not be easy.

“Working near the bottom of the ocean is very challenging because this is uncharted territory,” van Sebille told Reuters. “Nobody has been down there before.”

Image caption: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been missing since March 8. Officials believe “pings” from the black boxes onboard may have been discovered, while others aren’t so sure. Black boxes are guaranteed to emit distinctive high-pitched “pings” for 30 days after coming into contact with water.

Image by The Mirror