Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) was a scheduled international passenger flight that disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, to its destination, Beijing Capital International Airport in China. The aircraft has not been recovered, and the cause of the disappearance remains unknown. With 239 people on board, the case of MH370 is one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation history
|Disappearance||8 March 2014|
|Summary||Cause unknown, new search ongoing, some debris found|
|Site||Southern Indian Ocean (presumed)|
|Flight Origin||Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang, Malaysia|
|Destination||Beijing Capital International Airport, Chaoyang-Shunyi District, China|
|Fatalities||239 (Legally presumed dead)|
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) was a scheduled international passenger flight that disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, to its destination, Beijing Capital International Airport in China. The aircraft has not been recovered, and the cause of the disappearance remains unknown. With 239 people on board, the case of MH370 is one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation history.
All time is UTC. Malaysian time is 8 hours ahead of UTC
The aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines, last made voice contact with air traffic control at 1719 UTC, on 7 March (01:19 MYT, 8 March), when it was over the South China Sea, less than an hour after takeoff. It disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens at 1722 but was still tracked on military radar as it deviated westwards from its planned flight path and crossed the Malay Peninsula, until it left the radar range at 1822 while over the Andaman Sea, 200 nautical miles (370 km) north-west of Penang in north-western Malaysia.
The aircraft was carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from 15 nations. The multinational search effort for the aircraft was the most expensive aviation search in history. The search began in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, where the aircraft’s signal was last detected on secondary surveillance radar and was soon extended to the Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea. Analysis of satellite communications between the aircraft and Inmarsat’s satellite communications network concluded that the flight continued until at least 0019, 8 March, and flew south into the southern Indian Ocean, although the precise location cannot be determined. Australia took charge of the search on 17 March when the search moved to the southern Indian Ocean. On 24 March, the Malaysian government noted that the final location determined by the satellite communication is far from any possible landing sites and concluded that Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
From October 2014 to January 2017, a comprehensive survey of 120,000 km2 (46,000 sq. mi) of sea floor about 1,800 km (1,100 mi) south-west of Perth, Western Australia yielded no evidence of the aircraft. Several pieces of marine debris found on the coast of Africa and on Indian Ocean islands off the coast of Africa—the first discovered on 29 July 2015 on Reunion—have been confirmed as pieces of Flight 370. The bulk of the aircraft has not been located, prompting many theories about its disappearance.
On 22 January 2018, a search by private U.S. marine company Ocean Infinity begun in the search zone around latitude 35.6°S, longitude 92.8°E, the most likely crash site according to the drift study published in 2017.
In a previous search attempt, Malaysia had established the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to investigate the incident, working with foreign aviation authorities and experts. Malaysia released a final report on Flight 370 in October 2017. Neither the crew nor the aircraft’s communication systems relayed a distress signal, indications of bad weather, or technical problems before the aircraft vanished. Two passengers travelling on stolen passports were investigated but eliminated as suspects. Malaysian police have identified the captain as the prime suspect if human intervention was the cause of the disappearance, after clearing all others on the flight of suspicious motives. Power was lost to the aircraft’s satellite data unit (SDU) at some point between 1707 and 1803; the SDU logged onto Inmarsat’s satellite communication network at 1825—three minutes after the aircraft left the range of radar. Based on analysis of the satellite communications, the aircraft turned south after passing north of Sumatra and the flight continued for six hours with little deviation in its track, ending when its fuel was exhausted.
With the loss of all 239 on board, Flight 370 is the second deadliest incident involving a Boeing 777 and the second deadliest incident in Malaysia Airlines’ history, behind Flight 17 in both categories. Malaysia Airlines was struggling financially, a problem that was exacerbated by a decline in ticket sales after the disappearance of Flight 370 and the downing of Flight 17; the airline was re-nationalized by the end of 2014. The Malaysian government received significant criticism, especially from China, for failing to disclose information promptly during the early weeks of the search. Flight 370’s disappearance brought to public attention the limits of aircraft tracking and flight recorders, including the limited battery life of Underwater Locator Beacons raised four years earlier—but never mandated—following the loss of Air France Flight 447. In response to Flight 370’s disappearance, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, extended recording time for cockpit voice recorders, and, starting from 2020, will require new aircraft designs to have a means to recover the flight recorders, or the information they contain, before they sink below the water.
Flight 370 was operated with a Boeing 777-2H6ER, serial number 28420, registration 9M-MRO.
It was the 404th Boeing 777 produced, first flown on 14 May 2002, and was delivered new to Malaysia Airlines on 31 May 2002.
The aircraft was powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines and configured to carry 282 passengers in total capacity.
It had accumulated 53,471.6 hours and 7,526 cycles (takeoffs and landings) in service:22 and had not previously been involved in any major incidents, though a minor incident while taxiing at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in August 2012 resulted in a broken wing tip.
Its last maintenance “A check” was carried out on 23 February 2014. The aircraft was following all applicable Airworthiness Directives for the airframe and engines.
A replenishment of the crew oxygen system was performed on 7 March 2014, a routine maintenance task; an examination of this procedure found nothing unusual.
The Boeing 777 was introduced in 1994 and has an excellent safety record. Since its first commercial flight in June 1995, the type has suffered only five other hull losses:
British Airways Flight 38 in 2008;
A cockpit fire in a parked Egypt Air Flight 667 at Cairo International Airport in 2011;
The crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in 2013, in which three people died;
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over Ukraine killing all 298 people on board in July 2014; and
in August 2016, the sixth Boeing 777 hull-loss occurred, when Emirates Flight 521 crashed while landing and caught fire at Dubai Airport.
Passengers and crew
Malaysia Airlines released the names and nationalities of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, based on the flight manifest, later modified to include two Iranian passengers traveling on stolen passports.
All 12 crew members, two pilots and 10 cabin staff, were Malaysian citizens.
The pilot in command was 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah from Penang. He joined Malaysia Airlines as a cadet pilot in 1981 and, after training and receiving his commercial pilot’s license, became a Second Officer with the airline in 1983. Zaharie was promoted to Captain of Boeing 737-400 in 1991, Captain of Airbus A330-300 in 1996, and to Captain of Boeing 777-200 in 1998. He had been a Type Rating Instructor and Type Rating Examiner since 2007 and had 18,365 hours of flying experience.
The co-pilot was 27-year-old First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid. He joined Malaysia Airlines as a cadet pilot in 2007 and became a Second Officer on Boeing 737-400 aircraft. He was promoted to First Officer of Boeing 737-400 aircraft in 2010 and later transitioned to Airbus A330-300 aircraft in 2012. In November 2013, he began training as First Officer on Boeing 777-200 aircraft. Flight 370 was his final training flight and he was scheduled to be examined on his next flight. Fariq had 2,763 hours of flying experience.
Of the 227 passengers, 152 were Chinese citizens, including a group of 19 artists with six family members and four staff returning from a calligraphy exhibition of their work in Kuala Lumpur; 38 passengers were Malaysian. The remaining passengers were from 13 different countries Twenty passengers—12 of whom were from Malaysia and eight from China—were employees of Freescale Semiconductor.
Under a 2007 agreement with Malaysia Airlines, Tzu Chi—an international Buddhist organisation—immediately sent specially trained teams to Beijing and Malaysia to give emotional support to passengers’ families. The airline also sent its own team of caregivers and volunteers and agreed to bear the expense of bringing family members of the passengers to Kuala Lumpur and providing them with accommodation, medical care, and counselling. Altogether, 115 family members of the Chinese passengers flew to Kuala Lumpur Some other family members chose to remain in China, fearing they would feel too isolated in Malaysia.
Flight and disappearance
Flight 370 was a scheduled flight in the early morning of 8 March 2014 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. It was one of two daily flights operated by Malaysia Airlines from its hub at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Beijing Capital International Airport—scheduled to depart at 1635 and arrive at 2230. On board were 227 passengers, 10 cabin crew, 2 pilots, and 14,296 kg (31,517 lb) of cargo.
The planned flight duration was 5 hours and 34 minutes, which would consume an estimated 37,200 kg (82,000 lb) of jet fuel. The aircraft carried 49,100 kilograms (108,200 lb) of fuel, including reserves, allowing an endurance of 7 hours and 31 minutes. The extra fuel was enough to divert to alternate airports—Jinan Yaoqiang International Airport and Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport—which would require 4,800 kg (10,600 lb) or 10,700 kg (23,600 lb), respectively, to reach from Beijing.
At 1642, Flight 370 took off from runway 32R, and was cleared by air traffic control (ATC) to climb to flight level 180—approximately 18,000 feet (5,500 m)—on a direct path to navigational waypoint IGARI (located at N 6° 56′ 12″; E 103° 35′ 6″). Voice analysis has determined that the First Officer communicated with ATC while the flight was on the ground and that the Captain communicated with ATC after departure. Shortly after departure, the flight was transferred from the airport’s ATC to Lumpur Radar air traffic control on frequency 132.6 MHz.
ATC over peninsular Malaysia and adjacent waters is provided by the Kuala Lumpur Area Control Centre (ACC); Lumpur Radar is the name of the frequency used for en route air traffic. At 1646, Lumpur Radar cleared Flight 370 to flight level 350 approximately 35,000 ft (10,700 m). At 01701, Flight 370’s crew reported to Lumpur Radar that they had reached flight level 350, which they confirmed again at 1708.
The aircraft’s final automated position report and last transmission, using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) protocol, was sent at 1706; among the data provided in the message was total fuel remaining—43,800 kg (96,600 lb). The final verbal contact with air traffic control occurred at 1719:30, when Captain Shah acknowledged a hand-over by Lumpur Radar to Ho Chi Minh ACC:
Lumpur Radar: Malaysian three seven zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one two zero decimal nine. Good night.
Flight 370: Good night. Malaysian three seven zero.
The crew was expected to contact air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City as the aircraft passed into Vietnamese airspace, just north of the point where contact was lost. The captain of another aircraft attempted to reach the crew of Flight 370 just after 1730 using the international distress frequency to relay Vietnamese air traffic control’s request for the crew to contact them; the captain said he was able to establish contact, but only heard mumbling and static. Calls made to Flight 370’s cockpit at 1839 and 2313 were unanswered but acknowledged by the aircraft’s satellite data unit.
Data from Malaysian military radar showing Flight 370 (green) crossing the Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea to where it was last seen by radar. The left of the two segments of the flight track follows air route N571 between waypoints VAMPI and MEKAR; the white circle appears to highlight a section where the aircraft was not tracked by radar.
At 1720:31, Flight 370 was observed on radar at the Kuala Lumpur ACC as it passed the navigational waypoint IGARI (N6°56′12″; E103°35′6″) in the Gulf of Thailand; five seconds later, the Mode-S symbol disappeared from radar screens. At 1721:13, Flight 370 disappeared from the radar screen at Kuala Lumpur ACC and was lost about the same time on radar at Ho Chi Minh ACC, which reported that the aircraft was at the nearby waypoint BITOD. Air traffic control uses secondary radar, which relies on a signal emitted by a transponder on each aircraft; therefore, the transponder was no longer functioning on Flight 370 after 1721. The final transponder data indicated that the aircraft was flying at its assigned cruise altitude of flight level 350 and was travelling at 471 knots (872 km/h; 542 mph) true airspeed. There were few clouds around this point, and no rain or lightning nearby. Later analysis estimated that Flight 370 had 41,500 kg (91,500 lb) of fuel when it disappeared from secondary radar.
At the time that the transponder stopped functioning, military radar showed Flight 370 turning right, but then beginning a left turn to a south-westerly direction. From 1730:35 until 1735, military radar showed Flight 370 at 35,700 ft (10,900 m) on a 231° magnetic heading, with a ground speed of 496 knots (919 km/h; 571 mph). Flight 370 continued across the Malay Peninsula, fluctuating between 31,000 and 33,000 ft (9,400 and 10,100 m) in altitude. A civilian primary radar at Sultan Ismail Petra Airport with a 60 nautical miles (110 km; 69 mi) range made four detections of an unidentified aircraft between 1730:37 and 1752:35; the tracks of the unidentified aircraft are consistent with those of the military data. At 1752, Flight 370 was detected passing just south of Penang Island. From there, the aircraft flew across the Strait of Malacca, passing close to the waypoint VAMPI, and Pulau Perak at 1803, after which it flew along air route N571 to waypoints MEKAR, NILAM, and possibly IGOGU. The last known location, from and near the limits of Malaysian military radar, was at 1822, 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) after passing waypoint MEKAR (which is 237 nautical miles (439 km; 273 mi) from Penang) and 247.3 nautical miles (458.0 km; 284.6 mi) northwest of Penang airport at an altitude of 29,500 ft (9,000 m).
Countries were reluctant to release information collected from military radar because of sensitivity about revealing their capabilities. Indonesia has an early-warning radar system, but its air traffic control radar did not register any aircraft with the transponder code used by Flight 370, despite the aircraft possibly having flown near, or over, the northern tip of Sumatra. Indonesian military radar tracked Flight 370 earlier when en route to waypoint IGARI before the transponder is thought to have been turned off but did not provide information on whether it was detected afterwards. Thailand and Vietnam also detected Flight 370 on radar before the transponder stopped working. The radar position symbols for the transponder code used by Flight 370 vanished after the transponder is thought to have been turned off. Thai military radar detected an aircraft that might have been Flight 370, but it is not known what time the last radar contact was made. The signal did not include identifying data. The flight was also not detected by Australia’s conventional or its long-range JORN over-the-horizon radar system, which has an official range of 3,000 km, the latter not being in operation on the night of the disappearance.
Satellite communication resumes
At 1825, the aircraft’s satellite communication system sent a log-on request message—the first message on the system since the ACARS transmission at 1707—which was relayed by satellite to a ground station, both operated by satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat. After logging on to the network, the satellite data unit aboard the aircraft responded to hourly status requests from Inmarsat and two ground-to-aircraft phone calls, at 1839 and 2313, which went unanswered by the cockpit. The final status request and aircraft acknowledgement occurred at 0010, about 1 hour and 40 minutes after it was scheduled to arrive in Beijing. The aircraft sent a log-on request at 0019:29, which was followed, after a response from the ground station, by a log-on acknowledgement message at 0019:37. The log-on acknowledgement is the last piece of data available from Flight 370. The aircraft did not respond to a status request from Inmarsat at 0115.
Response by air traffic control
Flight Information Regions in the vicinity of where Flight 370 disappeared from secondary radar. Kuala Lumpur ACC provides ATC services on two routes, located within FIR Singapore, between Malaysia and Vietnam. (Air routes are depicted as roughly 5 nautical miles / 8–10 km wide, but vary in width, with some as wide as 20 nautical miles/ 35–40 km.)