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: Plane was deliberately flown into sea, claims investigator

3 August

Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was deliberately flown into the sea, a leading air-crash investigator has claimed.

Larry Vance, who has led more than 200 investigations, said there was "definite evidence" for his theory after an investigation showed a section of wing recovered a year ago was extended upon landing, a procedure that "can only be activated by a person".

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Vance told Australia's 60 Minutes news programme that photographs of the flaperon, which is used to control the roll or bank of an aircraft, show a jagged edge and signs of erosion, indicating that the Boeing 777 was guided into the ocean in a controlled landing.

"The force of the water is really the only thing that could make that jagged edge that we see. It wasn't broken off. If it was broken off, it would be a clean break. You couldn't even break that thing," he said.

French investigators are examining the flaperon, but have yet to release their findings. Another piece of wing, found in Tanzania, is being analysed to see if it was extended at the end of the flight.

60 Minutes also heard from an official co-ordinating the search effort who thought the wreckage could be outside the search zone if someone had been in control of the plane when it crashed.

Peter Foley, from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said: "If you guided the plane or indeed control-ditched the plane, it has an extended range, potentially."

The Boeing 777 disappeared with 239 people on board while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in March 2014. Investigation teams are still trying to determine the cause of the crash. Previous theories suggested the plane crashed after malfunctioning or was shot down, with Australian investigators working under the assumption that no one was in control when it disappeared.

Officials last month confirmed that data recovered from the home flight simulator owned by the plane's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, showed it had been used to plot a course over the southern Indian Ocean, where the missing jet is believed to have crashed.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is leading the underwater search in the Indian Ocean and publishes regular operational updates.

MH370: Australian officials confirm flight simulator story

28 July

The pilot of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 left a route plotted on his home flight simulator similar to the path the missing airliner is thought to have taken when it vanished on 8 March 2014.

The claim that the FBI had examined Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home simulator and found the route prompted speculation the disappearance was a murder-suicide when it was reported by New York magazine last week.

But the story was flatly denied by the Malaysian authorities, says The Guardian. The national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said Malaysia had not handed documents or information to the FBI or any overseas authority.

However, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has now confirmed the FBI did examine the simulator and did find a route plotted to the southern Indian Ocean, where flight MH370 is thought to have been heading when it was last detected.

It added that the discovery does not prove the disappearance was a murder-suicide. It is not known if the route was plotted by Shah himself, just that it was on a simulator in his home.

The ATSB was responding to claims made by Australian pilot Byron Bailey, who wrote in The Australian this week that the FBI discovery "shows… it was a deliberate planned murder-suicide".

Bailey dismissed the theory proposed by the ATSB that the flight crew, including Shah, were unresponsive as the plane headed south, labelling it as "bollocks" that does not make sense to "us pilots".

Last week, the Dutch firm carrying out the underwater search for the plane said they may have been looking in the wrong place as they were basing the hunt on the belief the crew were unconscious. If the pilot was awake, he could have glided the plane further south.

MH370: Malaysian police dismiss 'mass murder-suicide' theory

26 July

Malaysian police have dismissed a media report that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was deliberately steered into the sea by a pilot intent on mass murder and suicide.

New York magazine said its accusation was based on a leaked document from the Malaysian police investigation that showed Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had "conducted a simulated flight deep into the remote southern Indian Ocean" on his home flight simulator less than a month before the aircraft vanished.

"We found a flight path that led to the southern Indian Ocean, among the numerous other flight paths charted on the flight simulator that could be of interest," the document reportedly said.New York journalist Jeff Wise says the revelation is "the strongest evidence yet that Zaharie made off with the plane in a premeditated act of mass murder-suicide".

Malaysian police inspector-general Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told local media the story "is not true", insisting Malaysia had not submitted such a document to "any authority abroad, including the FBI".

However, in a separate article, New York magazine pointed out it had said "the FBI had given the report to Malaysia, not vice versa". It claims Malaysia turned over Zaharie's simulator hard drives to the agency and that it had written a report about its findings for the Malaysian police.

The Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB), which is leading the search for the Boeing 777, has said there is "no evidence" to support the claim that it was a "deliberate planned murder/suicide". It did, however, confirm that the FBI had provided data to the investigation.

Without going into detail about what was found on the simulator, the ATSB says the information "shows only the possibility of planning" and "does not reveal what happened on the night of its disappearance nor where the aircraft is located".

The ATSB has made no claims about what might have caused the disappearance of the aircraft, saying only that "for search purposes the relevant facts and analysis most closely match a scenario in which there was no pilot intervening in the latter stages of the flight".

Relatives of those on board the missing plane have expressed frustration with what they see as a lack of transparency in the investigation.

Steve Wang, whose 57-year-old mother was a passenger on MH370, told Time magazine he has no idea whether to believe the latest claims since the entire investigation has been shrouded in mystery.

"They should give the next of kin more information," he said. "Until today they have not given us any information from the investigation - they have given us nothing."

Captain Desmond Ross, an aviation expert with experience as a pilot, also told Time he felt there had been a "distinct lack of transparency", although he added that many pilots plot unusual courses on home flight simulators for legitimate reasons.

"I think there is a lot of information being withheld from the investigation. I’m sure the Malaysians are withholding information," he said.

MH370: Has search team been looking in the wrong place?

21 July

The company leading the underwater hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 fears they have been scouring the wrong area for the past two years.

Dutch engineering group Fugro says it now believes the plane might have glided into the Indian Ocean rather than dived in its final moments.

Project director Paul Kennedy told Reuters that if wreckage is not found in the area they have been searching, then this other scenario might be a more "logical" conclusion.

"If it was manned it could glide for a long way. You could glide it for further than our search area is," he said.

The search of the 46,000 square mile patch of the southern Indian Ocean – roughly equivalent to the size of Greece – is expected to end in three months.

Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014, with 239 passengers on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"Doubts that the search teams are looking in the right place are likely to fuel calls for all data to be made publicly available so that academics and rival companies can pursue an 'open source' solution - a collaborative public answer to the mystery," says the Daily Telegraph.

This is also the "first time officials have lent some support to contested theories that someone was in control during the flight's final moments," says the newspaper.

MH370: Why hasn't the missing Malaysia Airlines flight been found?

08 July

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has hit yet another delay.

Due to "atrocious" weather, almost no progress has been made in the last eight weeks, according to reports in Australian media. The highly sensitive sonar equipment needed to comb deep crevices in the seabed can only be used in calm conditions and the Australian winter runs from June to August.

"In the event of further poor weather, or delays as a result of unforeseeable problems such as equipment failure or crew incapacity, searching the entire 120,000 square kilometre search area may continue well beyond the winter months," said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The search, which is focused on a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean, has been going for more than two years with no concrete clues as to the whereabouts of the jet. Debris has been found in Africa in recent months, but there is still no sign of the plane itself.

The vast underwater search was originally expected to finish last month, but a range of obstacles, such as poor weather, illness and lost equipment, have slowed progress.

Ministers from Australia, Malaysia and China will meet on 19 July to make a final decision on the "way forward".

The Malaysia Airlines flight went missing with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014.

Here are some of the other reasons the plane is yet to be found:

It isn't clear where the flight went

On the day of its disappearance, 8 March 2014, flight MH370 was tracked as normal until 1.22am local time.

Its last verbal contact occurred at 1:19:30, when Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah acknowledged, as is protocol, a send-off by Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, Lumpur Radar. The conversation was brief and conventional:

Lumpur Radar: "Malaysian three seven zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one two zero decimal nine. Good night."

Captain Shah: "Good night. Malaysian three seven zero."

The plane continued to appear on Malaysian military radar before suddenly turning westwards from its planned flight path and crossing the Malay Peninsula.

At 2.22am, it disappeared completely from radar while over the Andaman Sea, 200 nautical miles north-west of Penang.

It is still unclear why it deviated from its planned path and where precisely it went next.

Investigators have discovered that satellite communications continued between the aircraft and Inmarsat's satellite communications network until 8:19am, as the plane flew south over the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia's ministry of transport has long maintained that the Boeing 777 crashed in the Indian Ocean, but the exact location of its descent is unclear.

The search area is vast and the ocean is deep

In a video posted on YouTube last November, international investigators blamed deep water and the vast search area for their inability to find the missing plane

"Searching for MH370 is a complicated task," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said. "The search area is a long way from land, the water is very deep and the seafloor is largely uncharted."

Investigators have explained repeatedly that the task has been complicated by the fact some locations lie as deep as four miles below the surface.

"Daylight can only penetrate in some areas," says the agency. "[On the] deep sea floor, there is no sunlight, which has made progress in the search slow."

Black boxes are an imperfect system

Flight recorders, so-called "black boxes", can provide invaluable information about a crash – but unfortunately, they also go down with the plane, so need to be found for their data to be analysed.

A beacon, or "pinger", helps search teams close in on their location, but the boxes only have enough battery power to last about a month before they cease transmissions. Even the location of EgyptAir flight MS804 crash site took four full weeks to discover, despite extensive debris being found and search teams having a much clearer sense of where the plane went down.

Malaysian authorities have called for the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation, which helps develop aviation best practices, to implement new communication and tracking systems that broadcast information and follow planes in real time. This has not yet been adopted, largely due to the high cost of such systems, The Verge says.

There are many loose ends

Since it went missing, the only remnants of flight MH370 to be found are fragments of debris washed up on the coastlines of Reunion Island, Mozambique, Mauritius and South Africa.

Aviation experts have put up countless explanations as to why this might be, but in the absence of concrete evidence, conspiracy theorists have begun questioning everything from the site of the search to the plausibility of the wreckage itself and the very notion the plane crashed.

US psychologist Rob Brotherton, the author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, says as many as 90 per cent of people acknowledge entertaining one conspiracy theory or another. "Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them," he told the Los Angeles Times.

But, he adds, we shouldn't be quick to reject ideas, no matter how strange. "Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation," he says.

MH370: Purses and bags found on Madagascan island

20 June

A US adventurer searching for remains of the vanished Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has discovered 20 items he believes could have belonged to the passengers and crew.

Blaine Gibson found the items on Riake beach, on Nosy Boraha island in north-east Madagascar.

"They may have just fallen off a ship," he told the BBC. "Still, I found them on the same 18km [11 miles] stretch of beach where I found suspected aircraft parts, so it is important that they are investigated properly."

Photos of the pieces, which include purses and an Angry Birds pencil-case, have been released by the non-profit organisation Aircrash Support Group Australia, which supports those affected by aviation disasters, in the hopes that they might be recognised by friends or relatives of those on board.

Gibson, a lawyer from Seattle, has spent the past year combing the beaches of Madagascar for signs of the plane's wreckage. In March, a piece of grey metal stamped 'NO STEP' was confirmed as "almost certainly" belonging to the missing plane. Earlier this month, Gibson discovered two more pieces of debris on Nosy Bohara which will be analysed by experts.

Other items believed to be from the plane, which went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, have turned up on the shorelines of South Africa, Reunion Island, Mozambique and Mauritius

Flight MH370: Suspected new debris found in Madagascar

10 June

A man who previously discovered debris likely to belong to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has found two more potential fragments from the plane on a Madagascan beach.

US lawyer turned self-styled adventurer Blaine Gibson, who has spent the last year scouring the coast for pieces of the aircraft, which disappeared on 8 March 2015, says he made the discovery on a beach on Nosy Boraha island in north-east Madagascar.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which continues to oversee the investigation into the missing flight, said Gibson had contacted them on Friday to report what he believed to be a fragment of window frame and another unidentified item.

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In March, Gibson discovered a grey piece of metal bearing the words "NO STEP" on a sandbank between Mozambique and Madagascar. Australian investigators have concluded it belonged to a stabiliser panel and was "almost certainly" from the missing plane. Other items possibly belonging to the wreckage have also been found on the island of Reunion, South Africa and Mauritius.

If confirmed, the new debris would strengthen the leading theory that MH370 crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean after running for several hours on autopilot. Ocean currents would lead to items being washed up on the south-east African coast.

The Australian investigation is scheduled to end this summer, despite the protests of relatives' groups.

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