Disappearance of Flight MH 370 A Decade Later: Of UFOs and What Not

The 227 passengers and 12 crew are missing.  The jury is still out on whether they are dead or alive.

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MH370

Good Night Malaysian Three Seven Zero” final voice transmission from the cockpit of Flight 370.

Ten years after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on March 8, 2014, operated with a Boeing 777-200 aircraft from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 souls on board (227 passengers and 12 crew) it remains one of the most perplexing enigmas in the history of aviation. All we have are various feasible or plausible  hypotheses which  have not been conclusively verified. Of the numerous hypotheses that have been put forward to account for the vanishing of the aircraft, the most  unconventional idea is that extraterrestrial involvement or unidentified flying phenomena (UFPs) may be involved. This proposal and other “possibilities” discussed below lack substantial empirical backing and scientific validation.

The notion of alien intervention or UFPs in the MH370 disappearance largely resides in the realm of speculation and is not within the scope of mainstream scientific investigation. The bulk of inquiries and assessments into the incident have prioritized more plausible rationales, such as mechanical malfunctions, pilot actions, potential hijacking, or other human and environmental factors.

It’s not unusual for unorthodox conjectures to emerge when conclusive evidence is lacking or when the situation presents mysterious elements. Nevertheless, lacking tangible proof to bolster such assertions, they remain speculative and are generally disregarded as credible explanations within the broader scientific community.

Pilot Suicide

One of the theories that have emerged is the possibility of pilot suicide: Some speculate that one of the pilots intentionally crashed the aircraft, potentially as an act of self-destruction. This conjecture is grounded in the seemingly deliberate actions taken to deactivate communications and alter the flight path. There is precedent for this supposition.

Some years ago,  American investigators concluded their final report on the 1999 EgyptAir Flight 990 crash, which tragically claimed the lives of all 217 individuals on board when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean near Nantucket, Massachusetts. The investigation found that co-pilot Gameel El-Batouty, left alone in the cockpit, disengaged the auto-pilot, initiated a descent, and repeatedly uttered the phrase “I rely on God” calmly, a total of 11 times. Although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributed the crash to the co-pilot’s actions, they refrained from explicitly labeling it as “suicide” in the main findings of their extensive 160-page report, stating instead that the reason behind his actions “was not determined.” Conversely, Egyptian authorities dismissed the suicide hypothesis, favoring a mechanical explanation for the crash.

Similarly, controversy surrounded the investigation into the 1997 SilkAir Flight 185 crash, which went down into a river during a Jakarta to Singapore flight, claiming the lives of all 104 occupants. While a U.S. inquiry concluded that the Boeing 737 was intentionally brought down, an Indonesian investigation yielded inconclusive results. In a later incident, Mozambique officials launched an inquiry into a crash that killed 33 people, suggesting preliminary evidence indicates the Mozambican Airline pilot deliberately caused the crash, with ongoing efforts to ascertain his motives. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilot suicide remains a rare occurrence in the United States aviation industry, with only eight of the 2,758 fatal aviation accidents between 2002 and 2012 attributed to such incidents, constituting a mere 0.3 percent. The report noted that these suicides were predominantly male pilots, with some testing positive for alcohol or antidepressants. The FAA acknowledged the challenges in identifying and preventing such tragedies, recognizing them as inherently complex and potentially under-reported events.

The incident of pilot suicide leading to the Germanwings crash took place on March 24, 2015. Germanwings Flight 9525, an Airbus A320 en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, was involved. The co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, intentionally directed the aircraft into the French Alps, resulting in the deaths of all 150 individuals aboard. Lubitz had a documented history of mental health challenges and purposely initiated the descent while the captain was unable to access the cockpit. This tragic event underscored concerns regarding pilot mental well-being and prompted revisions in aviation regulations concerning cockpit entry protocols and mental health assessments for pilots.

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Hijacking

Some say it is plausible that the plane was seized, either by passengers on board or by an external entity who gained remote control. However, no organization has claimed responsibility, and there is limited evidence to substantiate this theory. There is also conjecture that the aircraft may have been purposely diverted by someone onboard, with or without the intention of crashing it. This theory is supported by evidence of deliberate actions taken to disable communication systems. There is speculation that the aircraft may have been hijacked for its valuable cargo, although this theory lacks substantial evidence.

Safety Issues on Board

Although less probable due to the deliberate actions to disable communication systems, some argue that a catastrophic mechanical breakdown, such as a fire or structural damage, could have resulted in the plane’s crash. Some speculate that there could have been human error, such as a navigational error or misinterpretation of data, which could have led to the aircraft deviating from its intended path and ultimately crashing. In-flight Fire is another phenomenon put forward where some say an onboard fire might have incapacitated the crew, leading to the loss of communication and control over the aircraft. Some even suggest that  an unforeseen and unanticipated event, such as an explosion or sudden decompression, occurred, resulting in the swift loss of the aircraft.

Ultimately, without the retrieval of the wreckage or access to vital data, such as the flight data recorder, pinpointing the exact cause of the disappearance remains challenging. Despite extensive search efforts, the vast expanse of the ocean and the absence of definitive leads have posed significant obstacles to the investigation.

My Take

The 227 passengers and 12 crew are missing.  The jury is still out on whether they are dead or alive. Therefore, although  Flight MH 370 was an international flight which comes within the Montreal Convention of 1999 ( which both The Peoples Republic of China and Malaysia have ratified)  where the carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking, cogent evidence as to whether death or injury to passengers has yet to be established. 

Besides, the Montreal Convention establishes prescriptive limits when it says that the right to damages must be extinguished if an action is not brought within a period of two years, reckoned from the date of arrival at the destination, or from the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived, or from the date on which the carriage stopped. The method of calculating that period must be determined by the law of the court seized of the case.

In instances of aviation tragedies such as MH370, it’s common for legal recourse to be sought through lawsuits. Nonetheless, establishing fault and resolving compensation can pose significant challenges, particularly when the precise reasons behind the incident remain elusive.

Relatives of Flight MH370 passengers have initiated legal proceedings against Malaysia Airlines and other involved entities, aiming to secure redress and clarity regarding the fate of their family members. Yet, the developments and results of these legal endeavors have not been extensively publicized, with certain aspects potentially governed by confidentiality arrangements or ongoing legal processes.

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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