A Brief History
On March 8, 2017, a Boeing 777 jet airliner flying from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing, China, disappeared from radar screens and has not been seen or heard from since, despite incredibly large and extensive search efforts. A total of 227 passengers and 12 crew members vanished from the face of the Earth and grieving relatives want to know why.
While it is true that airplanes have “disappeared” often enough over the course of aviation history, with some highly noted cases such as that of Amelia Earhart (1937) and of course the infamous “Bermuda Triangle” incident of US Navy flight 19 in which 6 Avenger torpedo bombers disappeared in 1945, some cases are more gripping than others. That latter “Bermuda Triangle” incident, often portrayed as some sort of supernatural or alien influenced abduction, was made even more troubling by the disappearance of one of the airplanes searching for the lost flight, a flying boat type of patrol aircraft that was lost without a trace, including its crew of 13. In 1972, Democratic Congressman from Louisiana, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., disappeared along with 2 others on a flight of a small plane in Alaska. Boggs had been the Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives at the time, and had served on the infamous Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, adding to the ever present conspiracy theories any time an airplane disappears. During wartime, the disappearance of airplanes and their crews are a frequent occurrence, and some notable aces and other famous people have disappeared during wartime and not yet been found. A good example is band leader Glenn Miller, who with his airplane and the people aboard disappeared on a flight to Paris from London in 1944.
Although airliners have disappeared for unknown reasons and their wreckage never recovered, no such incident has gripped the attention of the world as has the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (sometimes listed as MH370 or MA S370). About 38 minutes into the flight, while the plane was on course over the South China Sea, the last radio communications between the pilots and the ground control took place, with no hint of anything wrong. Shortly after that exchange, the flight was never heard from again, although ground controllers did track the flight on radar, though on a troubling Westerly course off the prescribed route to Beijing. Radar tracked the airliner for about another hour, as the plane mysteriously headed off course over the Malay peninsula until contact was lost when the big jet was over the Andaman Sea about 200 nautical miles from any land. (Nautical miles are somewhat longer than the normal “statute miles” we use in the United States. A statute mile is 5280 feet, while a nautical mile is 6076 feet.) No indication of why the plane was off course or what, if anything, went wrong with the aircraft or the crew. An unprecedented search for the plane, the passengers, or any debris ensued, but nothing definitive has been found. The highest technology was used by searchers from dozens of countries, all to no avail.
Compounding the conspiracy theory generating machine was the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine only 4 months later! That a single airlines would be hit with such a pair of catastrophes in such a near time interval is remarkable. In the Flight 17 tragedy, the airliner involved was also a Boeing 777, and in that case 283 passengers plus 15 crewmen died, accounting for all aboard the flight.
The complete failure of authorities to determine the cause of the MH370 airliner’s disappearance and the failure to find any trace of the giant jet or the people aboard has resulted in all sorts of theories, including conspiracy theories about hijacking or the pilots purposely crashing the airplane. Or was it aliens? (One never knows what they will try next!) Was there a mechanical problem? Sabotage? Terrorist involvement? Was there a “hypoxia” incident? In order to prevent future such mysterious disappearances of airliners, proposals to create better tracking devices and underwater signaling devices have been put forward. Knowing precisely where an airplane went down would certainly help in its recovery in the event of a crash, and an underwater signaling device could help located the wreckage in case of a crash in the vast and deep oceans.
Researchers and various experts keep telling us how safe travel by airliner is. Are you reassured by the statistics published by the government? Are you afraid of disappearing like the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?
Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think happened to MH 370? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Vance, Larry. MH370: Mystery Solved. Group of Three Publishing, 2018.
Wise, Jeff. The Taking of MH370. The Yellow Cabin Press, 2019.
The featured image in this article, a map by Andrew Heneen, with topography vectorized by Shattered Gnome, of the initial search area for Malaysia Flight 370 in Southeast Asia (8-16 March), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.