A fresh wave of discussion and speculation has arisen around the ninth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, and as Netflix releases the limited series “MH370: The Plane That Disappeared.”
Here’s what we know, and still don’t know, about the plane’s final journey.
MH370 was the flight code for a route that the airline flew from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to Beijing. It also became shorthand for the particular Boeing 777-200 airliner that disappeared on March 8, 2014.
The flight code isn’t in use anymore — the airline retired it days after the plane disappeared, saying it would no longer use the code “as a mark of respect” to those onboard the aircraft.
When and how did MH370 disappear?
MH370 vanished shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time. The flight should have taken about six hours to reach Beijing.
At 7:42 a.m., Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it had lost contact with the plane.
No mayday was received by radio, and there were no final goodbye texts from passengers.
The authorities tried to piece together clues using the plane’s last communications with air traffic controllers and information from the plane’s radar transponder and satellites, although they offered only a partial picture of the route the plane could have taken. “There were no transmissions received from the aircraft after the first 38 minutes of the flight,” said a final report in 2018 by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which took part in search efforts.
Malaysian authorities released the transcript of the pilots’ last communications with air traffic control, shortly before contact was lost, in which one of the pilots is heard saying, “Good night Malaysian three seven zero” — a common turn of phrase used by pilots.
Soon afterward, at 1:21 a.m., as the plane was about to enter Vietnamese airspace, the aircraft’s transponder stopped sending location data. Then the plane made an unscheduled sharp left turn, away from its planned flight path to Beijing and back toward the Malay Peninsula, according to officials at the time.
In the days that followed, amid a huge international search, investigators and Malaysian officials indicated that the plane probably flew for hours after it ceased communications with air traffic control. It was still being detected by satellites until 8:11 a.m. — 7½ hours after takeoff, though it would have been approaching its fuel limit.
Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister at the time, said that the plane’s divergence from its course appeared to be “deliberate,” and that the satellite data showed that the plane could have last made contact anywhere along one of two wide corridors: one stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border, the other stretching from Indonesia to the Indian Ocean.
Ten days after the plane vanished, Malaysian Airlines contacted relatives of the missing by text message, telling them the airline “deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. … We must now accept [that] all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Indian Ocean.”
Najib also said satellite data indicated that the flight “ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Twelve crew members were on the flight along with 227 passengers from 14 nations. Most of passengers, 153, were Chinese.
Passengers included a group of Chinese calligraphers, two infants, three Americans, a stunt double for actor Jet Li, and a French national traveling with two children.
Two Iranian men on the flight had been using stolen passports — but Interpol officials noted that the two were not thought to be linked to any terrorist activity.
Why did the plane disappear?
Theories surrounding the plane’s disappearance have gripped the world for almost a decade. But so far, none has been proven.
The incident fueled wall-to-wall media coverage, particularly on CNN, which critics said was overly reliant on speculation and expert analysis, contributing to a whirlwind of theorizing.
Malaysian officials declared the plane’s disappearance an accident in 2015, a move that paved the way for the airline to pay settlements to the families.
One theory floated by a panel of aviation experts assembled in 2018 by the Australian edition of “60 Minutes” held that the 53-year-old pilot wanted to take his own life, and depressurized the plane after turning off its transponder and putting on an oxygen mask, knocking out everyone else on the plane by oxygen deprivation.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators disagreed, saying they believed that everyone on the plane — the captain, his co-pilot, attendants and more than 200 passengers — was unconscious as the uncontrolled craft ran out of fuel and crashed into the water.
In 2018, a report by the MH370 safety investigation team also gave no definitive answers, saying there was no clear evidence for why the plane went off course. However, it highlighted failings by Malaysia’s air traffic control, causing the country’s civil aviation chief to announce his resignation.
Several wild conspiracy theories have also percolated through the years. On social media Wednesday, the anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, some of those watching the Netflix documentary said the streaming giant gave conspiracy theorists too much screen time and should have focused more on the opinions of experts or families.
Timeline: Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
Did they ever find the plane?
Despite an extensive search involving more than 30 countries and 140 ships, the airliner has never been found.
An estimated $150 million was spent on the sprawling investigation, which searched more than 120,000 square kilometers (over 46,000 square miles) of sea floor. Part of the difficulty was that the search area in the Indian Ocean is regarded as one of the most difficult on Earth.
Australia, China and Malaysia had teamed up for a joint search but stopped their efforts in 2017, saying the hunt would resume only if clues pointed to a new, specific location. A private search led by a U.S. firm ended in 2018.
The plane’s black box has never been found.
In July 2015, a piece of debris — similar to a wing part found on jets like the Malaysia Airlines plane — washed up on Reunion, a small island in the Indian Ocean. The item, known as a flaperon, was examined by French experts, who concluded that the fragment was from MH370. A handful of personal belongings have since been found, washed up on beaches in places like Madagascar.
Australian investigators said in their report that the debris offered “significant new insights into how and where the aircraft ended its flight.”
After analyzing the drift of the debris and combining it with the satellite communication data, they said that “an area of less than 25,000 square kilometres” (just over 9,600 square miles) to the north of the earlier search zone had “the highest likelihood of containing MH370.”
However, officials have said that without “credible evidence,” a new search won’t be approved.
What do families of the MH370 victims say?
Many family members continue their quest for answers. Voice370, a group of relatives of those on board, issued a statement Sunday, just days before the ninth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, calling on officials not to give up on the search.
“As long as we remain in the dark about what happened to MH370, we will never be able to prevent a similar tragedy,” the group wrote. “Accordingly, we believe that it is a matter of paramount importance that the search for MH370 is carried out to its completion.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr., William Wan, Brian Fung, Amanda Erickson and Rick Noack contributed to this report.