This past weekend, a seemingly impossible event took place: a plane appeared to vanish from the sky. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared off the coast of Malaysia en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China. The flight should have arrived at 6:30 p.m local time, but was reported missing after failing to check in at 12:30 a.m. local time, less than an hour after departure.
Controversy is already surrounding the disappearance of this commercial aircraft carrying 227 passengers, and 12 crew members. Prior to the aircraft’s official disappearance, the air traffic controllers in Subang, outside of Kuala Lumpur, did not receive any distress signals or any other reports of a problem.
Search teams from nine countries including Vietnam, China and the U.S. have dispersed 40 ships and 34 aircrafts to aid in the search throughought the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand where it is believed the plane would have gone down. Vietnam’s search team reported finding two large oil slicks, six and nine miles long, in the Gulf of Thailand that could have come from the aircraft. Unfortunately, the oil slicks have been determined to be unrelated to the possible crash of the plane. This has pushed the process of investigation back to square one.
The aircraft is a Boeing-777, a twin-engine jet launched in 1995, which has approximately five million flights to its name. Seating up to 380 passengers, it is one of the world’s most popular aircrafts for long-distance flights. There have been two previous incidents with the aircraft: the death of a crew member in 2001 during re-fueling at Denver International Airport and the 2013 death of three Chinese women in the Asiana Crash at San Francisco International Airport.
A day after the plane’s disappearance, the Austrian Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Ministry in Rome confirmed that two passengers on the plane had bought tickets using passports stolen from Austrian and Italian citizens while they had been visiting Thailand. Reports indicate that a man using the stolen Austrian passport and another man using the stolen Italian passport bought tickets for the same flight that would have connected from Beijing to Amsterdam on Saturday. Neither passport had been checked by immigration personnel. Had they been checked through the International Police’s (Interpol) database of stolen travel documents, they would have recognized the stolen documents. Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble issued a statement saying that he believed “it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane; it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases.” Traveling with stolen documents is not uncommon, especially from a country like Malaysia that has more relaxed visa and documentation requirements. There has been terrorism speculation and counterterrorism organizations have been contacted for support in the investigation.
It may be possible that the plane attempted to turn back after losing contact. This has expanded the search area. At the time the flight disappeared it was already at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Only nine percent of plane crashes happen at cruising altitude. Due to new reports, search teams have also been sent into the Andaman Sea, where the plane might have crashed if it had turned around.
Similarities between the disappearances of the Malaysia Airlines aircraft and the 2009 Air France flight crash are already being discussed as the Air France flight is the only other recent incident of an aircraft completely disappearing midflight. The doomed Air France flight, an Airbus A330, was caught in a thunderstorm in 2009 while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris and crashed in the Atlantic midway through the flight. The Air France flight failed to send a distress signal before crashing into the ocean; all 228 passengers were killed.
It would be three years until the aircrafts black boxes and debris were collected and analyzed to determine that the thunderstorm had caused autopilot to fail, leaving the plane in the hands of inexperienced pilots. It is not known what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight, but both aircrafts disappeared in similar ways.
The search continues for the plane and its occupants. Families are calling cell phones of passangers, which are still ringing, which could mean the plane did not crash. Many nations watch with anticipation to find the plane’s whereabouts.