Nine years after a terrible tragedy took place, families, friends, investigators, and government officials have no more information–but dozens more questions. Though it’s not the final answer, Disney offers some possible insight into the tragedy that happened in March 2014.
Late in the evening on 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. The airliner was a Boeing 777-200ER, built in 2002. The plane had a capacity for as many as 314 passengers and could fly a maximum distance of just over 7,500 nautical miles without being refueled. It featured two giant Rolls-Royce Trent 875 engines, each of which boasted some 34 tons of thrust, allowing the airliner to cruise at 640 miles per hour.
Flight MH 370 departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m. local time on Saturday, March 8, 2014, and was to arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:30 a.m. The pilot was a 33-year veteran of Malaysia Airlines, Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah, a 53-year-old pilot with more than 18,000 flying hours under his belt. Captain Shah’s first officer was 27-year-old Fariq Hamid, who was just one flight away from his full certification as a pilot.
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was a regular one for Malaysia Airlines. The flight that night, however, was anything but normal.
At 1:19 a.m. local time, as the passenger jet cruised over the South China Sea en route to Beijing, Malaysian air traffic control radioed the aircraft and passed it off to Vietnamese air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh City. Captain Shah answered the controller with the famous words, “Goodnight, Malaysian three-seven-zero.” Nine years later, those remain the last words anyone ever heard from a passenger or crew member aboard MH370.
The events that took place aboard MH370 after 1:19 a.m. on March 8, 2014, have become what air travel investigators have referred to as “the greatest mystery in aviation history.” The pilot and first officer never spoke with air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh City–or in any other city on planet earth. Just after the last words from Captain Shah, MH370 disappeared off of air traffic control’s radar. But moments after its disappearance, it is believed that the airliner suddenly deviated from its flight plan in a westerly direction. Though MH370 could no longer be seen on the radar, military radar tracked the aircraft across the Malay Peninsula and over the Andaman Sea, shortly before it flew beyond the range of that radar, some 230 miles northwest of the island of Penang.
Multiple attempts to contact the airliner were unsuccessful, as the aircraft’s transponders and ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) had been rendered non-functional. It is not known whether they were intentionally switched off by someone on board the aircraft or if they were damaged by an event like a fire in the cockpit.
Investigations into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have returned more questions than answers. Many believe, based on information from Inmarsat, the British satellite communications company that provides phone and data services around the globe thanks to several geostationary satellites thousands of miles above the earth, that MH370 continued flying due south for hours after its final communication, finally crashing or being ditched by someone aboard the aircraft, into the southern Indian Ocean. But even this has not been proven with 100% certainty.
In nine years, there have been no bodies recovered from the water, and no debris field was ever found following the disappearance. As of December 2022, 36 pieces of debris and possible aircraft parts from a Boeing 777-200ER have been found on beaches and shorelines since the disappearance, but even those have only been classified as “not likely” or “likely” to be from MH370. Three of the pieces have been classified as “highly likely,” though no absolute identification has been made.
In the months following the disappearance of MH370, searches for the doomed airliner commenced, and they were massive undertakings. The initial search of the surface of the Indian Ocean was carried out with the help of 22 military aircraft and 19 ships from eight different countries. The search area encompassed nearly 2.9 million square miles, each of which turned out to be empty ocean.
The search then moved underwater, where ships used sonar technology to detect “pings” from the aircraft’s black box, or flight data recorder, a device that is–contrary to its name–bright orange. The black box saves information from instruments in the cockpit and even records the last two hours of conversations inside the cockpit. Information stored within the black box helps investigators to determine the cause of air accidents. But in the case of MH370, since the aircraft has never been recovered, neither has the black box.
Nine years of nothing but questions about the disappearance have given rise to a myriad of theories about what happened to the 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard the Malaysia Airlines jet. Those theories range from plausible to beyond belief. Some believe Captain Shah intentionally ditched the airliner in a murder-suicide plot, while others believe aliens abducted the plane. Other theories propose that the jet was shot down or even that it landed somewhere and is being held in a hidden hangar.
And while no one can be sure at this time what exactly happened on board MH370, 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 why the seabed terrain has made the search next to impossible.
In an episode of the National Geographic series, Drain the Oceans, a range of data from bathymetric sonar scans to 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.
The results are highly-accurate images of what the seabed looks like, and with the first few images, it’s clear that finding the airliner at the bottom of the Indian Ocean will prove incredibly difficult, as the terrain underwater features deeper chasms than anything on land, long stretches of seabed dotted with volcanoes, and mountain ranges that compete with those on dry land.
The episode gives viewers a look at what the downed airliner might look like, if and when it is found at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and the images are sobering.
The MH370 episode was released on July 30, 2018, but subscribers can stream it anytime. You can also see it in the YouTube video below: