MH370: mysterious 89kg load ‘added to cargo flight list after take-off’

Discovery by French investigators fuel theories that plane was hijacked by stowaway

MH370 search
(Image credit: AFP)

MH370: 'Burnt' plane parts discovered in Madagascar

16 September

Five new pieces of debris thought to be linked to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been recovered on the coast of Madagascar.

Significantly, two of the small fragments appear to be burnt.

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The debris was found near Sainte Luce, in south-eastern Madagascar, by three locals and passed on to Blaine Gibson, an American lawyer-turned-adventurer who has spent the past year scouring the coast for debris belonging to flight MH370.

The top layer of paint on two of the fragments was "scorched black", Gibson told Australian's Channel 7 news.

"If confirmed to have come from the plane, it will be the first evidence that a fire - possibly an electrical one - brought down MH370 rather than the actions of a suicidal pilot," reports.

Australian investigators will now analyse the pieces to see if they come from the plane, and whether they indeed point to a fire on board.

It is easy to understand the frustration of the victim's families, some of whom have accused the authorities of failing to do enough to locate the crash site, says the BBC's transport correspondent, Richard Westcott.

If the Australian-led search effort in the Indian Ocean wraps up as scheduled later this year, discoveries like these will be all the evidence we have about MH370's ultimate fate, "yet the only person looking for them is a self-funded, amateur American enthusiast".

Since becoming an adventurer, the former Seattle attorney has also travelled Ethiopia looking for the biblical Ark of the Covenant and studied the lost civilisations of South America.

For the past year, he has been combing the beaches of Mauritius, Mozambique and Madagascar in a one-man quest to unlock the mystery of the missing plane after becoming obsessed with the case.

"I was touched by the plight of the families," said the 58-year-old, who has no formal training in air crash investigation. He told the BBC earlier this year: "I just couldn't imagine how they felt, knowing nothing about their loved ones for a year… So I just decided, I'll go look for it for myself.

"I love travelling, and I love solving mysteries, and I love to do good things for people."

Gibson has found 13 suspected MH370 fragments that have washed up on East African beaches, including wing fragments, a piece of a seat and personal belongings of passengers, such as a bag and a laptop case.

Meanwhile, a piece of debris found on a Tanzanian beach in June has been confirmed as a wing part belonging to missing Malaysian Airways flight MH370, Malaysian officials have said.

A report on the find, issued by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is leading the search efforts, concluded that the component belonged the right outboard flap of a Boeing 777. MH370 is believed to be the only missing Boeing 777 in the world.

The wing part, which was found on Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania, "was confirmed as originating from the aircraft registered 9M-MRO and operating as MH370", The Guardian reports.

Few confirmed traces have been found of the aircraft that disappeared soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on 8 March 2014, with 239 passengers and crew on board. Twenty-seven fragments from the aircraft have been found along the coast of East Africa.

So far, only one of the pieces examined by investigators has been publicly confirmed as belonging to the missing plane – a wing part called a flaperon that washed up on the French administered island of Reunion in July 2015. However, the ATSB has said that they believe four more fragments are "almost certainly" debris from the missing plane, whose crash site in the Indian Ocean is still a mystery.

MH370: Have search teams been looking in the wrong place?

13 September

An Australian mathematician who helped calculate the search zone for investigators looking for the wreckage of Flight MH370 now believes that the plane actually crashed further to the north-east.

Neil Gordon is the head of the Data and Information Fusion department at Australia's Defense Science Technology Group, which was brought in in the aftermath of the plane's disappearance in March 2014.

Based on the seven pings sent out by the plane in the six hours before it went off radar, Gordon's team calculated an arc which marked the point where the final ping was transmitted.

"The result was a probability 'heat map' showing where on the surface of the ocean the plane might have impacted," Popular Mechanics reports. However, in his first press interview, Gordon told the magazine that he had only ever estimated the chance of the wreckage being within the boundaries of the 120,000 sq km search zone to be in the "mid 70s".

The final ping was consistent with a sharp descent, appearing to rule out a theory that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah held the plane in a glide after the jet's fuel ran dry, which might have caused the plane to crash further to the south-east. Gordon believes that the answer lies instead to the north-east of the current search zone, where the plane would have crashed if it had stayed in the air slightly longer than thought.

"If you look at the probability distribution, it would say, 'Go up north,'" Gordon said.

Gordon's hypothesis would explain why the crash site has eluded the efforts of the Australian-led recovery effort. So far, only isolated fragments from the wreckage have turned up along the East African coast – and time is now running out. Search operations are set to wrap up in December.

MH370: Mystery woman 'messaged pilot two days before flight'

9 September

The captain of doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 messaged a female friend two days before the plane's disappearance regarding a "personal matter", it has been claimed.

Fatima Pardi, a 35-year-old mother of three, says that she and Shah met when volunteering together during the Malaysian elections and began exchanging WhatsApp messages.

Their friendship "quickly developed to a level where Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was playing an almost fatherly role to the children," reports The Australian. Shah would regularly visit her home, but Pardi says the pair were not having an affair.

"This is not a lovey-dovey story," she insisted. " He told me he saw potential in me and that he would help me build a better ­future for myself and my children."

Pardi admits that Shah messaged her two days before MH370 vanished from radar on 8 March 2014, but would not divulge details of the exchange, saying she feared it could be "misunderstood".

"That last conversation was just between me and him," she said. "I don't want to talk about it." She is understood to have spoken to Malaysian investigators on four occasions about her relationship with Shah.

Shah's personal life and mental state in the run-up to the disappearance of the aircraft has come under close scrutiny, with a leading theory suggesting that the crash was caused deliberately. A route similar to the one that MH370 took when it went off-course over the Indian Ocean was found in Shah's home flight simulator, but his family and friends have repeatedly insisted that he was not stressed or disturbed in the months before the crash.

A year-long investigation into Shah’s personality by the Malaysian transport ministry found that there was "no known history of apathy, anxiety or irritability" and "no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict or family stresses" in the months before the crash.

"There were no behavioural signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse" in either the captain, first officer or the ten other members of cabin crew who went down with the plane’s 227 passengers, it found.

Shortly after the disappearance, several media reports claimed that Shah’s wife, Faizah, had left him a few weeks before. Their family has denied this, saying that they were a happy couple who had nothing beyond "normal" marital issues.

Several aviation experts still believe that a deliberate manoeuvre on the part of the plane’s captain is the strongest theory to explain the aircraft’s movements in its final moments, the BBC reports.

But even if Shah is proven to have been in control of the plane as it plummeted to Earth, this could be evidence of either a suicidal dive or his desperate last-minute efforts to avert such a crash. While some believe Shah was in control of the plane, gliding it onto the water himself, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search, says the SATCOM data matches most closely with a scenario in which there was no human intervention during the last moments of the flight.

MH370: Can barnacles help solve the mystery?

31 August

Barnacles could provide evidence of exactly where missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 landed, says a scientist specialising in marine environments.

Professor Patrick De Deckker, from the Australian National University, studied a crustacean found on a piece of the plane's flaperon and said the animal had started growing in warmer waters but that most growth occurred in colder waters, at the latitude of Perth or lower. Then, during the final stages of its life, it grew again in warmer waters, he added.

De Deckker told the Courier Mail his findings were "consistent with the current search area and the drift modelling" of investigators.

However, he believes they will contradict those of French colleagues who were also studying the barnacles. Their research has yet to be released.

De Deckker also stressed that his analysis of calcium and magnesium ratios in the shell were not definitive, the length of the barnacle's life was not clear and growth also depended on food availability.

The flaperon, which forms part of an aircraft's wing, was discovered on Reunion Island in July 2015, 16 months after flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The focus of the search is a 46,000 square mile area of the Southern Indian Ocean, where De Deckker believes the barnacle grew for a considerable period of time.

MH370: No evidence to support death dive theory, says expert

25 August

A top aviation expert says there is no evidence to support the theory that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 crashed in a "fast and unpiloted descent".

John Cox, a US air safety consultant, said the satellite tracking data was not strong enough to conclude either that the plane crashed with no one at the helm, or the "increasingly canvassed competing theory" that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah flew the plane to the end, possibly in a controlled glide.

"I do not believe there is sufficient data in the Inmarsat [satellite tracking] data to draw any conclusion on the rate of descent," he told The Australian.

The former pilot, who has been involved in some of the most significant crash investigations in recent history, said the most likely explanation for flight MH370's disappearance was that Zaharie hijacked the aircraft, but how it finally came down had "not been determined", The Australian says.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the investigation, refuted Cox's claims and repeated its claim that the MH370's final two satellite communications indicate the plane "was in a high, and increasing, rate of descent".

Determining the manner in which the plane crashed will help investigators conducting the underwater search for the plane to refine their target area. Currently, the search is based on what the media has dubbed the "death dive" theory.

The Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared with 239 people on board while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in March 2014.

MH370: No mystery to flight's disappearance, says expert

17 August

There is "absolutely no mystery to what happened" to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 - the pilot landed it on the ocean, according to one expert.

Larry Vance, a Canadian flight-accident investigator who has worked on more than 200 aviation disasters, says the plane was deliberately brought down to the ocean level in such a way as to ensure it sunk intact.

Although only a few pieces of wreckage have turned up so far, Vance claims the items – parts of the flaps and flaperons – are enough to account for the plane's final moments.

Saying the flaps are used to lower speed in the final stages of a flight, he told Der Spiegel they must have been intentionally activated in the moments before the crash.

"The photos clearly show that the trailing edges of these devices are severely damaged whereas the leading edges are virtually unharmed. This is an extremely significant piece of information," he said, adding that the flaps could only have been extended by somebody in the cockpit.

"Somebody wanted that airplane to land on the surface of the ocean in such a way that the fuselage stayed intact, so that everything would go to the bottom, never to be found or seen again."

The only mystery was "why somebody would do this", he said.

Data from pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home flight simulator revealed he had plotted a course over the Indian Ocean ending near the area where MH370 is thought to have entered the water, leading to suggestions he may have crashed the plane deliberately.

However, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search, believes there was no pilot at the controls during the plane's final moments, based on data obtained from automated signals sent out by the aircraft.

MH370 plummeted out of sky 'at up to 20,000ft a minute'

11 August

Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plummeted out of the sky at speeds of up to 20,000ft a minute, according to new analysis of the plane's automated signals.

Defence scientists believe the aircraft ran out of fuel and the two engines flamed out within 15 minutes of one another, causing the plane to lose lift.

At this point, its nose would have dropped and it would have fallen in a series of downward swoops, reports The Australian, which was briefed on the analysis.

"As it gathered speed, it would have gained lift and climbed again. As that speed fell off, its nose would have dropped rapidly once more, the aircraft falling into another steep dive," says the newspaper. "That process is likely to have been repeated until it hit the water, probably with one wing down. The impact would have been catastrophic."

The discovery of wreckage from the flight over the past year suggests that it broke up on impact.

Greg Hood, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search, said the new data suggests there was no pilot at the controls at the end of the flight. This is contrary to another theory that a pilot might have crashed the plane outside the current search area.

The analysis, which includes extensive testing by Boeing, indicates that the plane descended at a rate of between 12,000ft a minute and 20,000ft a minute, much faster than a normal landing of around 2,000ft a minute.

The bureau has not ruled out that idea that the pilot was responsible for the jet's disappearance.

Relatives of the victims have urged the Malaysian government to examine more than 160 items found in Madagascar, close to where a fragment suspected to be from the plane's wing was found.

Independent investigator Blaine Gibson has been searching beaches from Malaysia to Mauritius for clues to MH370's whereabouts.

He discovered debris in Madagascar that Australian authorities have said "almost certainly" belong to the airliner and has since documented other items, including bags, a shoe and a camera case, found on the beach that he believes should be investigated.

Victim support group Air Crash Support Group Australia says Gibson shared the images with the family members of passengers.

"He has been careful to point out that these may well have nothing to do with the personal effects of passengers on MH370," it said. "Nonetheless, since they were all found in Riake Beach, Ile Ste Marie, (Nosy Boraha), Madagascar, the same 18km-long beach [11 miles] where he found debris that is under investigation as potential debris from 9M-MRO, there is the possibility that these items may belong to passengers on MH370."

MH370: Secrecy undermines search team, says aviation expert

8 August

The search for the crashed Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has been dogged by problems from the start, but the news that FBI evidence was suppressed by the Malaysian government undermines the efforts of investigators, an aviation expert has said.

Last week, it emerged that FBI evidence, which was presented to the Malaysian government and obtained by New York magazine, appeared to show that MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practiced a flight over the Indian Ocean on his home flight simulator a month before the Malaysian Airlines flight vanished.

"From the outset, Malaysia's handling of the investigation has been botched, and the handling of an FBI report into the captain's flight simulator just adds to the sorry tale," said Geoffrey Thomas, the aviation editor of the West Australian newspaper.

"Of greater concern to Australians is that Malaysia's apparent reluctance to be more open is tarnishing the reputation of [Australia's] crash investigators."

So what does the evidence indicate? According to aviation expert Neil Hansford, the files strengthen the claim that the crash was due to a "human event" and could possibly be "murder-suicide".

"I have had no doubt in all of this that the disappearance was linked to a human decision being made, not a technical fault," Hansford told the New Daily.

"The pilot took enough fuel to go up to Beijing and back and he still had another seven hours of fuel. Someone should have asked when he left Kuala Lumpur and they knew he was carrying so much fuel.

"Normally you only carry the trip fuel plus your alternate airport, plus ten per cent.

"This guy filled his aircraft up to the brim and that's why it flew for so long after he went on his little mystery tour."

Malaysian police have continued to dismiss reports the plane was deliberately steered into the sea by a pilot intent on mass murder suicide, Time says.

MH370: Pilot did simulate Indian Ocean flight

5 August

Malaysia's transport minister has confirmed Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah used his home simulator to mark out a course into the Indian Ocean shortly before Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished.

However, said Liow Tiong Lai, there is no evidence the pilot followed the flight path and it was "one of many" he had simulated.

Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is overseeing the search for the missing aircraft, confirmed the news last month, after it was reported in New York magazine. Yesterday's announcement is the first time Malaysian authorities have supported this, says Wall Street Journal.

The Sydney Morning Herald says there were significant differences between the simulated flight and actual path taken, such as the endpoint of the simulated flight being 932 miles from the remote patch of ocean where the plane is believed to have gone down.

Liow also dismissed reports that new evidence pointed to a "rogue pilot" having hijacked MH370 and crashed it into the sea.

Australia's 60 Minutes news programme said last week that the condition of a section of wing thought to be from the MH370 was "definite evidence" that the aircraft had been deliberately flown into the sea.

Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 people on board while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in March 2014.

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