PARIS, France – In what remains one of the biggest mysteries in the history of civil aviation, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014 without a trace.
An explanation for the event, officially declared an accident by Malaysian authorities in late January, might become possible if a large piece of debris found on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion this week turns out to be part of the ill-fated Boeing 777.
Here is what we know about MH370:
The doomed flight took off from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur at 00:41 am on Saturday, March 8, 2014 (1641 GMT Friday) with 239 people on board, including 227 passengers, of which 153 were Chinese, headed for Beijing.
An hour after takeoff, flight MH370 changed course and lost all contact with air traffic controllers.
Vietnam said shortly afterwards that the plane disappeared into thin air in its airspace and launched a search after detecting traces of oil in its waters.
A day later, Malaysia said it was following up the possibility that the disappearance was terrorist-linked and the US FBI sent agents.
There was later a series of false leads, including when Beijing announced on March 12 that it had detected large “floating objects” in the sea where it suspected the missing flight might have gone down.
Malaysian authorities said the plane’s main communication systems shut down, that the change of flight path was due to a deliberate move by someone on board and that the plane continued to fly for at least seven hours.
Searches at the homes of the pilots in Kuala Lumpur and probes of their backgrounds revealed no leads.
In mid-March the search zone was enlarged, with 26 countries taking part.
On March 30 Australia was charged with coordinating the search operation in the remote Indian Ocean which involved seven countries – Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States – with the support of a British submarine.
Despite more than 300 air sorties, searches covering more than 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles), the massive mission failed to find any wreckage. Priority was therefore given to submarine exploration.
Raw satellite data showed that the missing flight went down in the southern Indian Ocean, information demanded by passengers’ relatives who were frustrated over the failure to find any wreckage.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is in charge of searching an underwater search area that measures more than 50,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles). Authorities plan to search a total of 120,000 square kilometers.
By mid April 2015, about 60% of the initial suspected crash area had been covered.
The most credible explanation for the disappearance, according to officials charged with the probe, is a sudden fall in the oxygen level in the aircraft which rendered the crew and the passengers unconscious.
According to that hypothesis, the plane then continued to fly on automatic pilot until, when fuel ran out, it plunged into the sea.
A study by independent experts published a year after the event offered no explanation for the plane’s disappearance. – Rappler.com