A year on from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, what happened to the plane and its 239 passengers and crew still seems to be anyone’s guess.
An information vacuum has nourished the most outlandish conspiracy theories about one of aviation’s biggest mysteries, as well as heated online debate.
From sober, science-based arguments to the most eyebrow-raising hypotheses, here are a few of the most talked about ‘explanations’.
What they all agree on is that some key pieces of the puzzle are missing.
It crashed into the southern Indian Ocean
Official investigators used analysis from British firm Inmarsat of “pings” to its satellite from MH370, along with data direct from the plane before its transmissions stopped, to conclude that it flew south after dropping off Malaysian military radar and crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
That conclusion has been challenged by aviation bloggers and freelance investigators, who have questioned key radar plots and assumptions about the speed and fuel burn of the jet.
Lending credence to some of the sceptics, Tim Clark, head of Emirates Airlines, said last November he believed information was being withheld – something Malaysia’s government has always denied.
The well-respected Independent Group (IG) has done its own analysis and believes the plane is probably near the current search zone, but not necessarily within it.
Just why MH370 ended up there is contested both within IG and others who support the official findings.
Some plump for a hijack scenario, others point to technical or pilot error. A British captain, Simon Hardy, says the plane did a fly-by of the pilot’s home island of Penang before flying repeatedly in and out of Malaysia and Thailand to confuse air traffic controllers.
A map of what we know and where theorists believe MH370 ended up
It was accidentally shot down
This theory was the thrust of the first book published on the incident, ‘Flight MH370 The Mystery’.
London-based author Nigel Cawthorne said the plane may have been accidentally shot down during joint US-Thai military exercises in the South China Sea.
Such accidents have happened before: Korean Air flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983, and the US Navy downed an Iranian airliner in 1988.
Aviation experts are sceptical about a US and Thai cover-up, proponents argue the very nature of a “cover-up” is that it is hard to disprove.
It came down near the Diego Garcia US base
The former head of France’s Proteus Airlines, Marc Dugain, put forward the theory that the plane may have been shot down by the US military#, fearing a September 11 style attack on the US Navy base on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
Dugain pointed to the testimony of residents in the Maldives who reported seeing an airliner travelling towards the island, although their claims were widely dismissed.
It’s still intact and in Russia
Former pilot and regular CNN aviation expert Jeff Wise speculates that MH370 flew north along national borders to avoid radar before landing in Kazakhstan as part of a Russian-engineered plot.
Wise’s theory is dependent on somebody on board the plane tampering with key satellite transmission data to give the impression it flew south. He noted the relevant instruments could be accessed by a panel in the cabin and that there were three Russians on board.
New York-based Wise, like many others, confessed to becoming somewhat obsessed, even buying additional satellite data in an attempt to confirm his theory.
But he acknowledges he can offer no motive to explain why Russia would want to steal a Malaysian jetliner.
“It’s amazing how much information we don’t have after looking at this case for all this time,” said Wise, whose recently published Kindle book ‘The Plane That Wasn’t There’ reached No.1 on Amazon’s bestseller lists.
But supporters of rival theories don’t take kindly to his version of events.
The Independent Group (IG), comprised of around a dozen satellite, data, maths and aviation experts, has expelled Wise following articles linked to his book.
“It’s a bunch of garbage,” said New Zealand-based IG member Duncan Steel.
It’s in Pakistan for terrorist purposes
A retired US lieutenant general spread the theory the plane was flown to Taliban-controlled Pakistan, to be used to carry weapons of mass destruction for an attack on Israel. The idea was given a boost by newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted: “Maybe no crash but stolen, effectively hidden, perhaps in Pakistan, like Bin Laden”.
World seems transfixed by 777 disappearance. Maybe no crash but stolen, effectively hidden, perhaps in Northern Pakistan, like Bin Laden.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) March 15, 2014
Speaking to euronews shortly after the plane’s disappearance, Gérard Feldzer, an aeronautical expert and former Air France pilot,
dismissed Murdoch’s theory as from ‘another world’.
MH370 is actually MH17
This theory is based on photos of the MH17 crash site in Ukraine, which proponents argue shows that the second crashed plane was in fact MH370, a later 777 model that had some small changes to its body.
How MH370 could have been hidden for six months before being substituted for MH17 – and what happened to the bodies – is not explained.
It’s now in the hands of aliens
Ridiculous? Maybe, but a CNN/ORC International poll carried out two months after MH370’s disappearance found that nearly 10% of Americans believe that space aliens or beings from another dimension were involved.