For six days, the world has struggled to understand how Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could have seemingly disappeared from the sky.
The missing plane, a Boeing 777-200, has been all over the news, but there hasn’t been a single piece of physical evidence to suggest where the plane went.
Theories, on the other hand, abound: catastrophic mechanical failure, terrorist plot, and even accidental missile fire are all on the table.
On Friday the Malaysian officials consider that the Flight 370 might have been deliberately flown off course. It means that they are looking at a sabotage and a hijacking theory.
While it seems hard to believe that a plane that’s 210 feet long and has a 200 foot wingspan could simply vanish, there are a number of factors confounding the search and rescue effort.
Contradictions in data continue to pop up, and without a definite idea of where the plane went down, either in one piece or already disintegrated, it’s hard to canvass the ocean effectively.
Compounding the difficulty is the fact that after almost a week, much of MH370 is likely to be underwater.
The latest report from the Wall Street Journal, based on information from the Malaysian civil aviation authorities and military, suggests that MH370 continued flying for almost four hours after the last civilian radar contact.
Malaysia’s military air-defense radar system showed an “intermittent plot to the west of the country” around 45 minutes after the missing flight disappeared from the civilian aviation organization’s primary and secondary radar systems.
If the plot on the military radar was indeed MH370, that would mean the plane turned sharply from its original flight path, flying for another several hours after its last contact with aviation officials.
The data is far from conclusive, however. The Malaysian government denied that the military radar was indicative of the plane turning back, and a “senior aviation source with detailed knowledge of the matter” told CNN that the WSJ account was wrong.
On the other hand, U.S. analysts and the FAA are in agreement with the report’s suggestion that the plane continued flying for several hours, saying that “pings sent to a satellite hours after the plane’s last transponder signal likely came from the missing aircraft.”
Those pings, according to U.S. officials, should indicate that the plane’s troubleshooting system was on: an aircraft sends about one ping an hour to satellites, though those pings don’t indicate whether the plane is in the air or on the ground.
No Data At All
In addition to contradictory information, there’s simply a dearth of data on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Given that no one has located any debris whatsoever from the plane, officials have yet to get information out of the flight data recorder, commonly known as the black box.
The Boeing 777-200 also has an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which should send data to aviation officials on land as to the plane’s operating state and systems.
Additionally, a positioning system known as AVS-B should send automated information about the plane, but neither that nor ACARS sent anything after 1:07 am on Saturday, Malaysian authorities have said.
Some U.S. analysts, such as John Nance, have suggested that the fact that the plane’s communication systems seemingly turned off suggest a “deliberate act,” according to Nance’s interview with ABC News.
There’s little reason for a pilot to voluntary turn off the plane’s transponder, in particular.
Regardless of the absence of those transmissions, the silence on the pilots’ end is also confusing: if the plane did keep flying after the last radar signal, and turned back, why didn’t the pilot indicate that?
Analysts have suggested that this could indicate either a massive mechanical failure of the communications systems or a hijacking.
Finally, assuming that MH370 did eventually crash into the ocean, the plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter should have gone off, alerting officials to its location. No such signal was transmitted.
Drifting or Sinking Debris
The search continues in the Gulf of Thailand, the original assumed crash site, and has been expanded to the Strait of Malacca, to the west of Malaysia.
Given the uncertainty about where the plane went down—or how it went down—the dozens of countries involved aren’t entirely sure what they’re looking for.
If the plane disintegrated in midair, debris could have fallen in a large area, with many pieces blowing significantly away from the plane’s original location in the sky.
If MH370 hit the water intact, the debris would obviously be in larger pieces, but the entire plane could now be at the bottom of the ocean.
Wherever the plane initially landed, after six days the debris may be elsewhere. Malaysia, the U.S., Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Australia, Taiwan and a host of other countries are gradually broadening the search area, but there’s no indication of just how long it will take to find the missing plane.