MH370 conspiracy theories: what happened to Malaysia Airlines' missing plane?
Was Flight MH370 captured by aliens? Stolen by Vladimir Putin? Or did it crash in Ukraine? A round-up of the best conspiracy theories
Despite the discovery of a wing fragment on the tiny volcanic island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, wild rumours and conspiracy theories continue to circulate about the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
From the moment news broke that the Boeing 777 had gone missing, the world's conspiracy theorists started to weigh in with explanations for the aircraft's disappearance, and for investigators' failure to find any trace of it.
The subsequent crash of flight MH17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, added to speculation, while a lack of clarity from Malaysian officials about the earlier mystery allowed rumours to flourish. Relatives of some passengers on board the flight offered a $3m reward for information in the belief that details of the investigation are being withheld from them.
Even the Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, accused his country's government of holding back "missing bits of information", fuelling the conspiracy theories. He asked how a country with "one of the most sophisticated" radar systems in the world could simply lose track of an aeroplane. Similar doubts have been expressed by the chief executive of Emirates, Tim Clark.
A poll conducted by CNN last year found that one in ten Americans believe that "space aliens, time travellers or beings from another dimension" were involved in the plane's disappearance.
Not even the discovery of the Reunion debris, which search teams believe came from the missing plane, has allayed some people's suspicions.
The search continues for the missing aircraft in the southern Indian Ocean. But far away from the scene of the search, on the internet's more excitable fringes, individuals have been working on theories of their own to plug the information gaps. Here are some of the best (and weirdest):
The Reunion debris is fake
Relatives of the passengers who were on MH370 reacted with a mixture of grief and disbelief following the announcement by the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, that the wreckage found on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion came from the missing plane, The Guardian reports.
"I want to kill him," said Zhang Meiling, 62, whose daughter and son-in-law were travelling on the plane. "What he said is nonsense. I just want to kill him."
Others said that in their view, the discovery of wing parts had been faked. "I don't believe it," said Bao Lanfang, 63, whose son, daughter-in-law and grandchild were on MH370. "It has been 515 [days] – that is enough time for them to have produced fake debris."
North Korea took MH370
It didn't take long for the most secretive nation in the world to be dragged into the MH370 rumour mill. Shortly after the plane disappeared, several conspiracy theorists questioned whether North Korea might be the "missing link" in the mystery. They pointed to South Korea's claim that North Korea nearly took out a Chinese plane carrying 220 passengers on 5 March 2014, with Chinese Southern Airlines reportedly passing through the trajectory of a North Korean missile just seven minutes after it was fired. Three days later, MH370 disappeared. While some think Pyongyang shot down the plane, others think it might have hijacked it and diverted it to North Korea. One anonymous aviation worker told eTurboNews Group that somebody out there wanted "a really, really huge plane" and that they were most likely after the Boeing 777's technology. Would supreme leader Kim Jong-un go that far? "Kidnapping and human trafficking has always been part of North Korea's scary agenda," said Nelson Alcantara, eTN editor-in-chief. One Reddit user claimed the "perfect place" to perform a hijack would be over the sea soon after take-off. "The North Korean government is bat shit crazy," he added. "There's no telling what crazy logic they might have for taking a plane."
Vladimir Putin hijacked the plane
It was surely only a matter of time before Vladimir Putin was accused of being involved in the disappearance of the MH370. However, what is surprising is that the accusation has come from a comparatively reputable source. Jeff Wise, a US science writer who was central to CNN's coverage of the MH370 last year has come up with the surprising theory based on the so-called "pings" that the plane emitted for seven hours after it went missing. According to Wise, the plane's hijackers "spoofed" the plane's navigation data to give off the impression that it flew south, but in fact took the Boeing 777 north and landed it in the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is leased from Kazakhstan by Russia. Wise posited the theory on his website, but admitted that he has "no idea" why Vladimir Putin would want to hijack a plane filled with passengers and land it at a Russian space port.
"Maybe he wanted to demonstrate to the United States, which had imposed the first punitive sanctions on Russia the day before, that he could hurt the West and its allies anywhere in the world," Wise wrote in his article for New York Magazine. "Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane's passengers. Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold. Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere someday, packed with explosives. There's no way to know."
404: Plane not found
Soon after MH370 went missing somebody noticed that the aircraft in question was the 404th Boeing 777 to have come off the production line. The significance? On the internet, a "404 error" message is returned when a web page can't be found. It was therefore interpreted as a hidden message about the fate of the plane, although what it might signify about its fate was unclear. There was a further twist when a group called the Lizard Squad, describing itself as a "cyber caliphate", hacked the Malaysian Airlines website and replaced its content with a message reading "404 – plane not found". But the group made no other claims or demands, and its actions seem to be no more than online mischief.
The plane was shot down by the US military
A French former airline director who has been investigating the disappearance of flight MH370 has claimed that the missing plane was shot down by American fighter jets who feared that it had been hijacked and was about to be used to attack the US military base on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia.
Marc Dugain, who once ran French airline Proteus, said that he had been warned not to look too closely into the case of MH370 by a British intelligence officer who told him that he was taking "risks", according to France Inter. Dugain had travelled to the Maldives and interviewed witnesses "who reportedly told him they had seen a 'huge plane flying at a really low altitude' towards the island bearing the Malaysia Airlines colours", The Independent reports.
Several months ago, a book called Flight MH370 – The Mystery, suggested that MH370 had been shot down accidentally by US-Thai joint strike fighters in a military exercise in the South China Sea. The book also claims that search and rescue efforts were deliberately sent in the wrong direction as part of a cover-up, the Daily Mail reports.
Life insurance scam
In March 2014, Malaysian police refused to rule out the possibility that the entire incident may have been a complicated insurance scam.
"Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities," said Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police.
At the time, authorities said they would consider all possible motives, no matter how unlikely they seemed, and would investigate all passengers and crew for any sign of unusual behaviour.
"We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport)," he added. "We are studying the behavioural pattern of all the passengers."
MH370 and MH17 were in fact the same plane
One theory that gained traction in the summer of 2014 was the suggestion that the airliner that crashed in a field in Ukraine was in fact the lost flight MH370, not the scheduled flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
According to the theory, proposed by a number of sites, including humansarefree.com, MH370 was hijacked and forced to land safely in an undisclosed location. Some believers say that the plane was taken to the US military base Diego Garcia – believed to be within range of where the MH370 disappeared – and then deliberately crashed near Donetsk by US agents months later in a "false flag" operation designed to discredit Russia.
Subsequent world events have played into the theorists' hands, as a number of countries accused Russia of providing military support to Ukrainian separatists – including Buk missile launchers capable of shooting down planes at high altitudes. The EU and US subsequently tightened their sanctions on Moscow.
To support their argument, some commentators, such as Opob News, point to the fact that wreckage found in Ukraine seems to have a different configuration of windows to the actual MH17, and that a Malaysian flag on the side of the fuselage is not in the right place. Others have suggested that these pictures are fake.
Five per cent of Americans surveyed by Reason.com believe that the plane was abducted by aliens. Some bloggers have pointed to a number of recent UFO sightings in Malaysia as evidence for extraterrestrial intervention. Alexandra Bruce, from Forbidden Knowledge TV, "proves" the involvement of aliens with her analysis of radar data. She claims that footage posted on YouTube shows the presence of something that "can only be termed a UFO" in the skies over Malaysia. Of course, that means something that is "unidentified" rather than aliens.
A 9/11-style false-flag hijack mission
No conspiracy is complete without Israeli involvement, and MH370 is no exception. According to this theory, Israeli agents planned to crash the Malaysia Airlines plane into a building, as in the September 11 attacks, and then blame the atrocity on Iran. Proponents point to the quick identification of two Iranian nationals travelling on forged passports and claims that CCTV images released of the pair had been doctored. More extravagantly, some have claimed that a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 identical to the one that went missing "had been stored in a hangar in Tel Aviv since November 2013".
The CIA is behind it
In a blog post, Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, wrote that he believes the US Central Intelligence Agency must know something about the plane's fate. He also claimed that Boeing, the plane’s maker, and “certain” unnamed government agencies, are able to take control of commercial airliners such as the missing Boeing 777 remotely if necessary. "Airplanes don’t just disappear," he wrote on his blog. "Certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras which operate almost indefinitely and possess huge storage capacities. ... For some reason, the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA."
China and Edward Snowden
Reddit user Dark_Spectre has a theory that links the disappearance of MH370 with Edward Snowden's revelations about the extent of US surveillance.
The theory is based on the fact that the flight was carrying 20 employees of Freescale Semiconductor – a company that may have worked with the NSA to develop surveillance technology, according to Snowden's documents.
Dark_Spectre writes: "We have the American IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia, a man working in mass storage aggregation for the company implicated by the Snowden papers for providing their services to assist the National Security Agency in surveilling the Chinese. And now this bunch of US chip guys working for a global leader in embedded processing solutions (embedded smart phone tech and defence contracting) all together… on a plane… and disappeared. Coincidence?"
The Reddit sleuth suggests that the apparent disappearance of flight MH370 may actually have been the result of an audacious attempt by China to capture a group of private contractors who helped the NSA to conduct spy operations against them. "Honestly, what would 200 lives be to the Chinese intelligence community for the opportunity to find out exactly the depth and scope of our intrusion," Dark_Spectre concludes.