By Scott Mayerowitz
NEW YORK: Countless theories have surfaced about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly two weeks ago.
Some are plausible, some are downright absurd. There is, unfortunately, no clear answer as the families of the 239 passengers and crew — and the rest of the world — wait in agony. Even the most logical hypotheses about what happened to the 209-foot-long Boeing 777 have holes. No scenario solves this mystery.
Here is a look at some of the leading theories:
Malicious pilot action
Investigators are looking at the histories of Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has been flying for Malaysia Airlines since 1981 and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, who just started flying a 777. Zaharie had built his own flight simulator at home, unusual but not out of the norm. Many aviation enthusiasts have similar setups. Investigators are now trying to restore files deleted from that simulator.
This theory was prominent early on after it was discovered that two Iranians on board — one 18, the other 28 — were traveling on stolen passports. Investigators haven’t found anything linking either to terror groups; it is believed they were trying to illegally immigrate to Europe.
Aviation experts initially suspected that something sudden and horrific happened. Perhaps a bomb on board, or some type of failure with the engines or airframe. But if that were the case, debris would have been found in the spot where the transponder went off. Also, the Boeing 777 has just one crash in its 19-year history — last year’s Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. If there was a sudden breakup, pieces of the plane would have been visible on radar.
An electrical fire, or perhaps a fire from hazardous cargo, could have knocked out communications equipment and prevented crewmembers and passengers from calling for help. Some people have speculated that smoke incapacitated the pilots. It’s possible, but flight attendants and passengers would have had time to try to enter the cockpit and take control of the plane.
A slow or sudden decompression, causing a loss of oxygen, could have killed everyone on board. If oxygen levels dropped, a loud, automated warning would have alerted the pilots to put on their oxygen masks and immediately descend below 10,000 feet, where there is enough oxygen to breathe without aid. If the plane depressurized and killed its occupants, which happened on golfer Payne Stewart’s business jet in 1999, that would explain the silence from crew and passengers. But aviation experts say in that case, the plane should have kept flying automatically toward Beijing and been visible on radar.
It’s possible that somebody landed the plane at some remote airport and is hiding it from the world. Maybe they want to hold the passengers hostage, although nobody has taken responsibility or demanded a ransom. Maybe there was something of value in the cargo hold — and this was the world’s most elaborate robbery. Maybe terrorists have the plane and plan to load it with jet fuel and explosives and use it as a missile in the future.
Civilian aircraft have been unintentionally shot down by a country’s military. In July 1988, the United States Navy missile cruiser USS Vincennes accidently shot down an Iran Air flight, killing all 290 passengers and crew. In September 1983, a Korean Air Lines flight was shot down by a Russian fighter jet. There is no evidence that Flight 370 was brought down by a government entity.