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Ten Years Ago, 239 People Vanished Without a Trace. Now Disney+ Attempts to Shed Light on the Tragedy

missing mh370 pilots and simulated crash in the southern indian ocean
Credit: ABC/Disney+/NatGeo/Canva

Ten years ago, 239 people disappeared without a trace, and to this day, there has been no sign of any of them–or of the aircraft they boarded little more than an hour before their disappearance.

Countless investigations, inquests, press conferences, and demands from grieving family members have yielded nothing and have instead served to add to the ever-growing list of conspiracy theories, including accusations of a potential government cover-up. Now, a decade later, neither the airplane nor its 239 passengers and crew have been heard from or seen.

wall of messages to mh370 victims

At Kuala Lumpur International Airport/Credit: Flickr/David McKelvey

As such, the pertinent questions remain: What really happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014–and how is it possible that one of the world’s largest aircraft simply disappeared without a trace? 

Now a series on Disney+ attempts to help answer those and other questions–but will the effort be enough to finally offer the families of the victims answers and peace of mind?

A Routine Flight Turns Tragic

Shortly before midnight on Friday, March 7, 2014, passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, began boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 with service to Beijing, China.

kuala lumpur international airport with malaysia airlines planes

Kuala Lumpur International Airport/Credit: Flickr/David McKelvey

The Aircraft

The airliner in service for the five-hour, 34-minute flight was a Boeing 777-200ER, which was manufactured in 2002, and it had the capacity to carry more than 300 passengers. The aircraft could fly as many as 7,500 nautical miles without the need for refueling.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER featured two huge Rolls-Royce Trent 875 engines, each capable of producing 34 tons of thrust, allowing the plane to fly at cruising altitude at almost 650 miles per hour.

Flight MH370: The Pilots and the Events Leading Up to the Disappearance

Flight MH 370, piloted by 33-year Malaysia Airlines veteran pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah and 27-year-old first officer Fariq Hamid, backed away from the airport gate at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and departed at 12:41 a.m. local time on the morning of Saturday, March 8, 2014, en route to Beijing Capital International Airport.

mh370 pilots

First Officer Fariq Hamid (L) and Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah (R)/Credit: ABC

The captain had more than 18,000 flying hours under his belt, and his first officer was only one flight away from earning his full certification as a pilot.

The aircraft was scheduled to arrive in Beijing, China, at 6:30 a.m. At 1:19 a.m., 39 minutes after take-off, as the passenger jet cruised high above the South China Sea, Malaysian air traffic control radioed the aircraft, passing it over to Vietnamese air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh City as the jet entered Vietnamese airspace. Controllers in Ho Chi Minh City, however, never heard from the captain or co-pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Captain Shah answered Malaysian air traffic controllers with the now-infamous words, “Goodnight, Malaysian three-seven-zero.” Ten years later, those are still the last words ever heard from anyone aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

mh370 missing airliner

Credit: Flickr/Bill Wilt/Canva

“The Greatest Mystery in Aviation History”

The events that transpired aboard MH370 after 1:19 a.m. ten years ago on March 8, 2014, have comprised what air travel experts and air accident investigators refer to as “the greatest mystery in aviation history.”

The pilot and first officer aboard MH370 never made contact with air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh City–or in any nearby city. Almost immediately after Captain Shah signed off with Malaysian air traffic controllers, MH370 disappeared from the radar. It is now widely believed that the airliner suddenly deviated from its flight plan, heading in a westerly direction, just after disappearing from radar.

malaysian airlines flight path before disappearance

Flight path deviation by Flight MH370/Credit: Flickr/Prachatai

Though MH370 could no longer be seen on civilian radar, military radar in the area was able to track the Boeing 777 across the Malay Peninsula and over the Andaman Sea before flying beyond military radar range as well, more than 230 miles northwest of the Malaysian island of Penang, the location of Captain Zaharie Shah’s childhood home.

All Communication is Lost

Multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact the airliner were made, and it soon became clear that the plane’s transponders and ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) had been rendered non-functional.

aircraft acars unit

ACARS unit aboard an aircraft/Credit: Flickr/Kent Wien

It has never been clear whether someone on the plane intentionally severed communications capabilities aboard the aircraft–or if the aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure, like that caused by a fire in the cockpit or a mechanical failure of the plane.

Investigations Begin as Families Are Told the Flight is “Delayed”

As the scheduled time for the arrival of Flight MH370 at Beijing International Airport drew near, arrival and departure boards at the airport began to display the word delayed next to the flight number. Surely, officials hoped that the loss of contact would be temporary, and many likely prayed that the aircraft would return online.

arrival departure board at beijing airport

Flight MH370 was initially deemed “delayed” at Beijing International Airport/Credit: Flickr/China Daily

But with every passing minute, the probability that the plane was lost grew.

No Answers, Followed By Even More Questions

Investigations into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 immediately began, and over the ten years that have transpired since the disappearance, nearly every effort to find out what happened to the plane and the 239 souls on board has only generated more questions–and more angst and anger from the families of the missing passengers.

And there’s been no shortage of speculation about the events that led to the plane’s disappearance. How could such a massive aircraft disappear without a trace?

media conference mh370

Credit: Flickr/Prachatai

Conferences held by Malaysia Airlines personnel and government officials seemed all but pointless, as no real information or news was shared, and victims’ family members became even more enraged.

Many believe, based on information from Inmarsat, a British satellite communications company that provides services around the globe that rely on numerous geostationary satellites thousands of miles above the earth, that MH370 continued in a deviated flight path after its final communication with air traffic controllers, flying due south for hours before ultimately crashing into the Southern Indian Ocean.

But even that theory can’t be proven with 100% certainty, and should it be proven, it’s still not known whether the aircraft suffered a cabin depressurization event, rendering everyone on board–including the pilots–unconscious and eventually dead from hypoxia, or if someone at the controls of the plane intentionally flew the aircraft to one of the most remote places on earth so that it could be ditched and impossible to locate.

But without the aircraft, nothing can be determined with any amount of certainty.

The Anniversary of a Terrible Tragedy

It’s now been ten years since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Still, no bodies have been recovered from the water, and no debris field has ever been discovered.

An Australian AP3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) flys over the Royal Navy survey vessel HMS Echo during the search for the Malaysian airliner Flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean

Australian AP3C Orion Maritime Patrol plane and the Royal Navy HMS Echo search for MH370/Credit: Flickr/Defence Imagery

As of December 2022, 36 pieces of debris and aircraft parts from a Boeing 777-200ER have been found along beaches and shorelines since the disappearance, but none of the pieces have been definitively identified as belonging to the Boeing 777-200ER that serviced Flight MH370. Most of the pieces of debris have been classified as not likely or likely to be from MH370, with only three of the pieces having been classified as highly likely.

Still, no positive identification has ever been made. 

notice of debris spotted from missing mh370 flight

Credit: Flickr/Duncan Cumming

Massive Search Efforts Yield Nothing

In the months following the disappearance of MH370, searches for the doomed airliner commenced, and they were massive undertakings. Initial efforts to find the missing airliner on the surface of the Indian Ocean were executed with the help of 22 military aircraft and 19 ships from eight different countries, including the United States.

The search area encompassed nearly 2.9 million square miles of the surface of the ocean, but no debris field could be located. Then the search moved underwater, where ships used sonar technology to detect “pings” from the aircraft’s black box, a device that is–contrary to its name–bright orange.

search areas in indian ocean for mh370

Partial search areas in initial efforts to locate MH370/Credit: Flickr/Mapbox

The black box saves information in two different devices–the cockpit voice recorder, which records the last two hours of conversations and sounds in the cockpit, and the flight data recorder, which records information from instruments in the cockpit.

airplane black box

Credit: Flickr/No22a

Information stored within the black box can be invaluable in helping investigators determine the cause of an air accident. In this case, however, the aircraft has yet to be found and recovered, so investigators have never been able to access the information that is contained within the black box . . . wherever it may be.

Ten Years Later, There Are Still No Answers–and No Aircraft

A decade of unanswered questions has only given rise to a myriad of theories about what happened to the 227 passengers, two pilots, and 12 crew members aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

Theories range from plausible to completely ludicrous. Many believe that Captain Shah intentionally ditched the giant Boeing airliner into the Southern Indian Ocean in an elaborate murder-suicide plot that had its roots in a political stance. Some believe the plane was shot down accidentally by U.S. forces in the South China Sea.

malaysia airlines mh370 missing plane in the clouds

Credit: Flickr/ByeAngel/Canva

Others believe that another country shot down the jet. Other theories include the abduction of the plane by enemies who then landed the plane and placed it into a well-hidden hangar. Other, less plausible theories also include an abduction of the airliner–but by aliens.

Even the 500-page investigation report completed in 2018 yields very little information about what might have happened to the jetliner.

Disney+ Looks at the Disappearance in a Whole New Way

Until the Boeing 777 is found, no one can be sure what exactly happened on board MH370, but a series on Disney+ attempts to shed light on how and where investigators might ultimately locate the doomed airliner.

Disney+ subscribers can take a look at what the giant Boeing 777-200ER might look like if it is ever found on the bottom of the Indian Ocean and gain an understanding of how the mountainous and treacherous terrain more than 12,000 feet under the surface of the water has made the search next to impossible.

simulation of mh370 on the ocean floor

Simulation of images of MH370 and the elusive black box on the ocean floor/Credit: Disney+/NatGeo

In an episode of the National Geographic series, Drain the Oceans, a range of data collected from bathymetric sonar scans, video footage, and photogrammetry allows computer graphics artists to recreate 3D models of the bottom of the Indian Ocean to give viewers an idea of what the airliner might look like on the ocean floor.

The episode even features simulated images of how the plane might have made impact with the ocean’s surface, shattering into millions of pieces before sinking to the depths of the ocean.

mh370 flight simulation

Credit: Disney/NatGeo

The grief and despair felt by the families of the missing passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines MH370 is likely unfathomable. Here’s hoping that a new search can be undertaken soon and that the aircraft–and the reasons behind its disappearance–can finally be discovered.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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