Soon after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing, the theorizing about what had happened began. Even the craziest of the theories is remotely plausible, but that doesn’t make it right. Here are the popular theories and why they’re all wrong, except for one.
Subscribe today to Plane & Pilot magazine for industry news, reviews and much more delivered straight to you!
1. Oxygen system failed, Zombie plane. Crashed after running out of fuel. Craziness ratio (1 out of 10); Plausibility score: 2 out of 10: This is the most plausible of the incorrect theories. It’s happened before, with the Greek airliner (Helios 522) that had its oxygen go out and crashed after running out of fuel. What didn’t happen with Helios is…it didn’t make flight plan changes. It didn’t disable its communications with ATC, including its transponder and satellite communications. It didn’t change course in order to miss areas with radar coverage. All of those things require a person flying the plane.
2. Fire took out communications. Craziness Ratio: 1 out of 10. Plausibility score: less than 1 out of 10. The theory that a fire took out the communications and satcomm links, cut off Oxygen so that the pilots wouldn’t have been able to survive and then put itself out without damaging the plane’s ability to maneuver and fly long distances without human oversight is all possible. And so is me winning Powerball tonight, only that my lotto odds are way better.
3. Hijacked by remote control. Craziness ratio: 9 out of 10. Plausibility score: .00000001 out of 10. The theory is that some third party hacked into the planes software and took control. Lacking in this theory is any evidence that such a function has ever been fielded in a civil aircraft, commercial or otherwise, any evidence that any organization did this or has ever attempted to do something similar, any plausible next step in the plot, and any plausible motivation for doing this. It’s about as plausible as aliens taking control of the plane. Maybe the alien scheme is more likely.
4. Malfunction of several systems. Craziness ratio: 1 out 10. Plausibility score: less than 1 out of 10. This is essentially the magic bullet theory, except this bullet would have had to take out one system, ricochet into another, taking it out, circled back around to take out a third and, oh, yeah, killed everybody onboard too. This is very similar to the fire theory, except it leaves the cause of the mishap unstated, making it only slightly less impossible than the fire, which would have had to put itself out.
5. Plane was stolen and landed in a mysterious location. Craziness ratio: 5 out of 10. Plausibility score: 1 out of 10. The theory that someone hijacked the plane and landed it somewhere else is false, because nearly 20 pieces of debris from the flight have been recovered. And the hijackers would have to know how to disable all the right systems in just the right ways, while killing everyone on board and then…what was the point again?
6. Hijacking gone wrong. See above.
7. The Captain did it. Craziness ratio: 1 out of 10. Plausibility Score: 9.5 out of 10. The captain, Zaharie Shah, had been going through marital difficulties. He’d practiced on his home flight simulator flights similar to the doomed MH370 South Indian Oceans splashdown. Also, he was reportedly distant and completely distracted for weeks leading up to the loss of MH370. He knew how to turn off the systems that were turned off. He knew how to control the plane afterward. This explanation covers everything, and the only leap of faith one needs to take is that a pilot could take control of a plane in order to kill all aboard, something that has been done at least two other times, Egypt Air in the 1999 (sorry Egypt Air apologists) and German Wings 9525 in 2015.
Will we ever know with complete certainty what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? Probably not. But the circumstantial evidence that it was the captain who did it is overwhelming, more than enough to get someone convicted in a U.S. court of law. In the eyes of justice, that’s as close to certainty as we can hope to get.