In Brief

MH370: mysterious 89kg load ‘added to cargo flight list after take-off’

Discovery by French investigators fuel theories that plane was hijacked by stowaway

Flight MH370: two years after disappearance – what do we know?

7 March

Investigators are examining a new piece of debris suspected to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The wreckage was washed up on the Reunion coast in the Indian Ocean.

An interim report is due to be released tomorrow to mark the second anniversary of the plane's disappearance, which occurred while it was flying between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, with 239 people on board.

The latest discovery comes days after a piece of wreckage from a Boeing 777 was discovered on the shores of Mozambique. It has been sent to Australia for further analysis, along with the new piece of debris.

So far, the only piece of wreckage to have been found is small piece of a wing, washed up on Reunion Island last July, although there have been several false leads, including debris found in Thailand at the beginning of the year.

"Currently, we are awaiting verification of two more pieces of debris which were discovered recently in Mozambique and Reunion Island respectively," Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said.

There is still a high degree of optimism among investigators that the missing aircraft will be found.

Martin Dolan, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is coordinating the search, says it is "very likely" the plane will be found by July.

"We've covered nearly three-quarters of the search area and since we haven't found the aircraft in those areas, that increases the likelihood that it's in the areas we haven't looked at yet," he told The Guardian.

Two years on, what exactly do we know about one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history?

Where was MH370 headed?

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 00.41am local time on 8 March 2014, carrying 227 passengers, ten cabin crew, two pilots and a little more than 14 tons of cargo. It was travelling to Beijing Capital International Airport, a flight that should have taken around 5hrs 34mins.

What happened after take-off?

The Boeing 777 was last heard from via its automatic transmission system at 1.07am, with its captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, speaking to Malaysian air traffic control 12 minutes later as his flight was handed over to Vietnamese control. Shah said: "Good night. Malaysian three seven zero."

What happened next?

At 1.21am, halfway over the Gulf of Thailand, the plane disappeared from civilian radar, suggesting its transponder stopped functioning or had been turned off. It could still be seen by military radar, however, which is how it is known to have abruptly turned from its flight path and headed back in the direction it came, before turning further west.

What was the last sighting?

Nobody truly knows because the countries involved are reluctant to reveal their military surveillance capabilities, but the plane seems to have been last spotted by Malaysian military radar at 1.40am, near Penang.

Were attempts made to contact the plane?

Yes. A little after 1.30am, the captain of another aircraft tried to make radio contact at the request of Vietnamese air traffic control, which could not reach MH370. He got through to the cockpit but could only hear "mumbling" and static. Two ground-to-aircraft phone calls were made at 2.39am and 7.13am. Both went unanswered.

When was MH370 last known to be in the air?

The last piece of data from the flight was sent by the automated Inmarsat satellite communications system at 8.19am, suggesting the flight was still in the air at that time. However, it could not give conclusive evidence about where the plane was and only suggested it was in one of two "flight corridors", one stretching north and the other south.

How is the search going?

The Australian authorities are still looking in the southern Indian Ocean but are expected to stop at the end of June, by which time the search, using ships dragging radar systems, will have cost some £90m, says the Daily Express. The only piece of confirmed MH370 wreckage found so far is a flaperon, a small part of a wing, which washed up on the French island of Reunion, thousands of miles from the presumed crash site.

What about the relatives?

There has been anger about the treatment of relatives by both the Chinese and Malaysian authorities, who are said to have been tardy with information and lacking in sensitivity. It angered relatives of the crew members when Malaysia abruptly declared the flight lost without warning. Some still cling to the hope their loved ones are alive, even after so long.

Flight MH370 search team to consider alternative theories

 

18 February

As the Indian Ocean search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 enters its final weeks, investigators are said to be looking at alternative causes for its disappearance.

The Australian team leading the search has been working on the theory that the pilots died or became incapacitated and the plane flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

After a long, fruitless search of a 46,000 square-mile area, they are now "preparing to revive the theory that the plane was deliberately brought down by a rogue pilot", says The Times.

With ten weeks of the search left to go, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says it is not quite ready to believe its initial hypothesis is wrong.

"We're not at the point yet but sooner or later we will be – and we will have to explain to governments what the alternative is," said Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of the ATSB. "And the alternative is, frankly, that despite all the evidence as we currently have, the possibility that someone was at the controls of that aircraft on the flight and gliding it becomes a more significant possibility, if we eliminate all of the current search area.

"In a few months' time, if we haven't found it, then we'll have to be contemplating that one of the much less likely scenarios ends up being more prominent – which is that there were control inputs into that aircraft at the end of its flight."

The move would "send shockwaves through the aviation industry", says the Times, as the current theory is supported by the plane's manufacturer Boeing and Britain's Inmarsat satellite communication company.

If a pilot controlled the plane to its end, the potential search area would also be vastly greater, three times the size of the present zone. Officials apparently are not ruling out the idea that a third individual entered the cockpit and took control.

The search for the flight, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014, is likely to cost £90m in total by the time it finishes in April.

Flight MH370: probe lost after collision with undersea volcano

25 January

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has hit a snag: an underwater sonar probe has been lost on the floor of the Indian Ocean.

The deep-water "towfish" was being towed by the Furgo Discovery on Sunday when it collided with an underwater mud volcano rising 1.3 miles from the sea floor.

Together with the 2.7 miles of cable that attached it to the ship, the unit, which was fitted with survey instruments, is now on the bottom of the ocean, although it is hoped it will be possible to recover it, says the Daily Telegraph.

The Furgo Discovery is currently making its way back to the west Australian port of Fremantle so a replacement cable can be fitted. It  is expected to reach port on Saturday.

MH370 vanished with 239 people on board on 8 March 2014, while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Last July, a six-feet piece of the plane's wing was washed up on Reunion island in the Indian Ocean.

A second barnacle-encrusted piece of metal was found on the Thai coast this weekend, but ocean modelling suggests it is unlikely to be part of the missing Boeing-777, says The Guardian.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the Australian team searching for M370 identified the previously unknown wreck of a 19th century ship, the second antique shipwreck uncovered during the search so far.

MH370: relatives say missing loved ones are still alive

8 January 

Relatives of the 154 Chinese and Taiwanese passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight say their families are being held against their will at an undisclosed location.

They added that they were willing to absolve the captors if they released their relatives.

"We believe our loved ones may still be alive and are being held at an undisclosed location for unknown reasons," said the group in a statement issued in Kuala Lumpur.

"In the absence of proof to the contrary, we believe it is possible the missing may still be alive.

"If this is so, we would willingly grant to the perpetrators amnesty in return for the release of the missing."

The plane disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, carrying 239 people. Families of the 154 Chinese and Taiwanese passengers have rejected official statements about the aircraft's fate. They also dismissed the discovery of a jet-wing part that washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion last July.

French officials confirmed that the part belonged to MH370, suggesting that the plane had broken up as it crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

However, the families said: "We do not believe any of the series of official statements starting from 24 March 2014 up to and including that of 3 September 2015. There is no real proof justifying any of these statements."

Their comments came as Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said its search for the plane in a 120,000 square kilometre area in the Indian Ocean was likely to finish in mid-2016.

"Three vessels – Fugro Discovery, Fugro Equator and Havila Harmony – are currently deployed for the underwater search. As at January 2016, more than 80,000 square kilometres had been searched," it said.

MH370: new analysis supports engine 'flame-out' theory

3 December

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is likely to have suffered an engine "flame-out" rather than a controlled ditching, according to new analysis conducted by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DST).

The plane disappeared in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

A report from DST, released today, said the most likely scenario was that the plane's right engine flamed out, followed by the left engine, causing it to crash into the Indian Ocean.

"Given the amount of fuel uplifted in Kuala Lumpur and historic fuel burn data for each engine, it is estimated that the left engine could have continued to run for up to 15 minutes after the right engine flamed out," said the report.

It added that it would be reasonable to assume the engine flame-out triggered a back-up power unit, which would have restored power to the satellite data unit and sent the last transmissions from the flight, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The analysis contradicts the theory put forward by some industry observers, including Captain Simon Hardy, who believe the pilot made a controlled ditch after flying for several hours.

They believe this would provide a logical reason why no wreckage was found on the ocean's surface: the only physical evidence of the crash so far has been a flaperon that washed up on a beach at Reunion Island near Madagascar.

Australian officials have said they are confident that they are searching in the right area. The new data analysis showed that the plane is "probably in the southern end of the Indian Ocean search zone, where the operation will now be focused", reports the BBC.

The search team has been combing a 120,000 sq km area of seabed about 2,000km off the coast of Perth.

MH370: British pilot claims plane could be found in 'weeks'

24 November

A British pilot believes the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could be found "in a matter of weeks" after the deep sea hunt for the plane shifted to a remote part of the Indian Ocean.

Following extensive analysis, Simon Hardy claims the area, which will be searched next month by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), is the missing plane's most likely resting place.

The experienced Boeing 777 pilot told The Australian newspaper: "I am fairly confident that the wreckage will be found within the next four to eight weeks."

However, Australian authorities stressed they were not being guided by Hardy's analysis. Martin Dolan, ATSB's chief commissioner, said the location had been chosen because the southern hemisphere weather had made the extreme conditions in the southern ocean calmer.

Hardy spent six months analysing known MH370 data and concluded that the plane was intentionally landed on the Indian Ocean and sank intact just 20 nautical miles (37km) outside an area that was being searched in April this year. The ATSB described his theory as "credible" at the time.

He suggested that MH370's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who comes from Penang, performed a U-turn after turning off the flight's transponder.

After flying along the border between Malaysia and Thailand, the aircraft reached Penang and made three turns in quick succession.

"It took me months to work out what this was," Hardy told The Sunday Times. "The clue was Ayers Rock [in Australia]. I have done the same manoeuvre there, to look down and get a great view. Somebody was taking a last emotional look at Penang."

China, which lost 153 citizens in the air disaster on 8 March 2014, has also pledged an additional £9.5m to help with the search.

In July, a wing part known as the flaperon washed up on Reunion Island. Experts said that the debris almost certainly came from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, but nothing further was found and that stage of the search was subsequently called off.

MH370: sonar experts 'jumped out of chairs' on seeing new images

21 October

Sonar analysis experts are urging the MH370 search team to revisit an area of the Indian Ocean after seeing pictures of objects they believe closely resemble an aircraft debris field.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is leading the hunt for the missing plane, recently published new images from the search area after resurveying a number of possible debris sites, but ruled out any link to the missing aircraft.

However, sonar analysis experts from the Seattle-based geophysical consulting firm Williamson & Associates said they "jumped out of their chairs" when they saw the new images online, reports the Herald Sun.

The ATSB concluded that the objects were likely to be "edges of rock exposed above the seabed and associated scattered rock", but Rob McCallum, manager of special projects at Williamson & Associates, said the pictures did not "appear to be geology as such".

He added: "They're certainly worth another look, and by that I mean putting down a camera. It's not a difficult thing to do, and it's better to be certain for the sake of all of the families."

Analysts pointed out that the edges of the pictures are blurry, suggesting the sonar equipment was being "pushed to the limits" and they might be "missing something".

Williamson & Associates lost out on a tender position with ATSB for the MH370 search, despite specialising in sonar equipment that helped find an Australian warship in 2008, sixty years after it sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

An ATSB spokesman said its own specialists were satisfied that the images did not show aircraft debris.

"We consider it unprofessional to draw conclusions based on the limited information provided by the images in the search update report," he said. "There are no indications that there is anything possessing the characteristics of an aircraft debris field and therefore a visual imaging run at very low altitude… was unnecessary."

MH370: woman claims to have found wreckage and skeletons

12 October

A woman in the Philippines claims to have found the wreckage of a plane "containing many skeletons and painted with the Malaysian flag", prompting speculation it could be part of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Siti Kayam claims to have stumbled across a smashed fuselage while she and others were out hunting for birds on the island of Sugbai.

According to the Daily Mail, police in neighbouring Borneo have confirmed they received a report of the discovery in thick jungle on the remote island.

Authorities are reluctant to say more at this time and "remain reserved about the report", says the Mail.

Sugbai lies more than 4,500 miles east of Reunion Island, where French officials believe part of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was found earlier this year.

Experts say it is "highly unlikely" that debris could have drifted from the remote Philippines island to the other side of the Indian ocean, especially as Borneo, mainland Malaysia and parts of Indonesia lie in the way.

It is understood the report will be verified or dismissed after further investigation within the next day or so.

MH370 disappeared in March last year with 239 people on board. A senior French prosecutor confirmed last month that a series of numbers found inside the barnacle-crusted jet wing part, found on Reunion, matches records held by a Spanish manufacturer as being part of the Boeing 777.

MH370: 'certainty' Reunion debris is part of missing plane

4 September 2015

French experts say it is a "certainty" that the jet wing part that washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion is from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

In a statement in Paris yesterday, senior French prosecutor Francois Molins said that a series of numbers found inside the barnacle-crusted 'flaperon' matches records held by a Spanish manufacturer as being part of the Boeing 777, last seen on 8 March last year.

According to CNN the statement added: "Consequently, it is possible today to affirm with certainty that the flaperon discovered at the Reunion Island on July 29 2015 is that of MH370."

Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, said in August that he believed the flaperon must be from the missing aircraft, says the BBC. But this is the first official confirmation from France, where the part was taken for analysis.

The 6ft-long chunk of metal was found on the French territory of Reunion some 2,300 miles from the area where searchers believe the jet must have crashed into the ocean – but the find is consistent with projections about where debris might end up after drifting on ocean currents.

MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of 8 March 2014, heading for Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The hunt for the wreckage continues in the southern Indian Ocean, 1,100 miles off the coast of Australia, with some 30 per cent of the top-priority search area covered so far using sonar technology.

The area searched is more than 11,185 square miles of the ocean floor, says the BBC, at depths of nearly 20,000 feet.

MH370: Malaysia sends experts to Maldives to examine debris

11 August

The focus of attention in the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 has shifted to the Maldives.

Malaysia announced today it is sending a team to examine debris washed up on the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said they would try to establish if the pieces were from an aircraft, says CNN.

He added: "At this stage, it is highly premature to speculate on whether this debris is in any way connected to MH370."

A piece of debris washed up on the French territory Reunion last month was claimed by Malaysia as a 'flaperon' from the aircraft, which went missing in March 2014. But French authorities say more tests are necessary to be sure.

Australian authorities have warned that while Reunion is a plausible end-point for debris, washed by currents from the place they believe the plane came down, the Maldives are far outside that zone.

The Daily Mail reported yesterday that at least some of the Maldives debris might come from a capsized barge. The captain, Abdullah Rasheed, told a local news site he believed some pieces were from his cargo.

His barge capsized on 10 February this year, with three out of five crew members lost. He said he could "almost certainly" say that some of the debris was from his cargo of three or four containers of wall panels.

The Mail says there are other pieces which the captain did not identify – including something which looks like it might plausibly be part of an aircraft wing, with the typical honeycomb internal structure.

The South China Morning Post, however, speculates the piece appears "very similar to … an unusual make of surfboard". Varial Surf Technology makes boards with an aluminium core but has not commented on the debris.

A minister in the office of the Maldives president, Mohamed Shareef, said officials were working closely with the Malaysian aviation authorities.

He said: "We are collecting any unidentified debris and storing them in a warehouse so the Malaysians can carry out tests and determine if it is from their plane or not. We ourselves are not doing any testing, but we have sent photographs."

The Mail recalls Maldives residents claimed to have seen a Boeing 777 flying south past the islands before circling back over the lower Bay of Bengal on the night MH370 disappeared.

Flight MH370: as France expands search, what happens next?

7 August

France is today preparing to conduct land, air and sea searches for more wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The move follows confirmation by the Malaysian government on Wednesday that wing debris washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion was part of the missing plane.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators analysing the debris in France had "conclusively confirmed" that the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after veering off course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 passengers  and crew on board.

"I would like to assure all those affected by this tragedy that the government of Malaysia is committed to do everything within our means to find out the truth of what happened," he said.

Despite Razak's announcement, investigators have stopped short of publicly confirming the debris is from the plane, instead saying there were "very strong conjectures", The Guardian reports.

This has angered relatives of the victims who are demanding more certainty from authorities. The announcements were met with anger in China, where most of the victims were from, as relatives refused to accept the news.

"Please don't let them keep lying," shouted one man while protesting at the airline's Beijing headquarters. "I want them to reveal the truth immediately."

Another woman said she had not given up hope of finding her daughter. "I believe they are still alive – otherwise they would have found the bodies."

But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country is leading the deep-sea hunt for the wreckage, said the discovery was consistent with the search pattern teams have been using.

"It suggests that for the first time we may be a little bit closer to solving this baffling mystery," he told reporters.

Why is it taking so long for investigators to confirm if the wing is from MH370?

The investigation is being led by aviation authorities in France as the debris was discovered on French territory, but Malaysian and Australian officials are also involved. The wing arrived at a military-run facility near Toulouse last weekend, but the involvement of different countries and groups has "complicated and delayed the situation somewhat", says CNN.

How will they confirm its origin?

Jean-Paul Troadec, the former head of France's BEA agency, which investigates aviation accidents, said the type of paint used on the wing might provide vital clues. "Every airline paints their planes in a certain way … and if the paint used is used by Malaysia Airlines and other companies, there may be more certainty," he said.

Investigators will undertake tests to try to determine where the wing came from. Mary Schiavo, an aviation analyst and former inspector general of the US Department of Transportation, says they will be conducting "everything from X-rays to sonograms". They will then take apart the fragment in search of serial and part numbers to match to the missing plane.

If a serial number cannot be easily identified, the wing will be examined with an electron microscope "that can magnify up to 10,000 times", Pierre Bascary, former director of tests at France's General Directorate for Armaments, told the Daily Telegraph.

Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, predicted analysts would also look for small fractures in the surface that could reveal the plane's angle of impact. An ultrasound could show "just how violent the separation was", he told ABC News.

There have also been suggestions that the barnacles growing on the wing could provide a clue about the water conditions under which they were formed and narrow down the search area considerably.

What happens next?

French authorities have announced they intend to set up a new search, combing the small Indian Ocean island for further traces of the missing plane.

The search will begin with an aerial observation by a military plane this morning, The Guardian reports, to be joined later by helicopters, boats and foot patrols across the French-administered island.

Although French investigators have declined to state definitively the flaperon discovered last week is from the Boeing 777 which went missing in March last year, the latest announcement suggests there is sufficiently strong conviction to launch a new search.

Malaysian authorities have been less circumspect, confirming the wing part belonged to the missing aircraft and claiming more debris had been discovered – a claim the French were quick to dismiss.

The discrepancy between these accounts has caused frustration among relatives of the flight's passengers, the BBC reports, exacerbating conspiracy theories and claims there has been a cover-up.

Even if confirmed by investigators, it is unlikely to solve the mystery behind the plane's disappearance and why it veered so dramatically off course. More than a year on from the tragedy, families of the victims are demanding more definitive answers.

But experts are divided on the significance of the discovery, which Malaysia called a "major breakthrough" in the investigation.

"This confirms the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean – but we pretty much knew that," aviation consultant Gideon Ewers told Sky News. "It won't take us any further down the path of what happened and why."

However, Jakarta-based aviation consultant Gerry Soejatman said discovering roughly where the plane crashed was a "huge step" forward in the investigation. "This answers a lot of questions, actually," he said. "It eliminates other theories, conspiracy theories."

Meanwhile, the Australian-led search for the wreckage and the crucial black boxes continues. Authorities scouring 120,000 sq km of the Indian Ocean say they are still confident they're looking in the right place and will do so for as long as it takes to provide families with the answers they need.

Flight MH370: analysis of wing begins as experts meet in France

03 August

Malaysian and French aviation officials are meeting local magistrates and police in Paris to coordinate the investigation into the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as analysis of the wing component found on Reunion island gets underway.

On Sunday, Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai confirmed that the flaperon was from a Boeing 777, making it increasingly likely that it is from the missing plane which vanished last year after veering off course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 people on board.

French investigators are expected to determine whether or not the fragment is from the plane by Wednesday, but Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of the Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) downplayed expectations. "We should not expect miracles from this analysis," he said.

Other experts believe that barnacles found on the debris could provide vital clues to help unravel the mystery behind the missing flight. The crustaceans could offer "valuable information" about the water conditions under which they were formed and could narrow the search area down to within tens of kilometres, Ryan Pearson, a PhD student at Australia's Griffith University told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities have appealed to Indian Ocean nations near Réunion island to be on the lookout for more debris. Over the weekend, a number of items were handed in to police on the island, including a piece of metal inscribed with Chinese characters. 

One item believed at first to be part of a plane door was found to be from a domestic ladder.

A spokesman in the town of St Andre, where the wing part was found, told the BBC that people are now "going to think any metallic object they find on the beach is from flight MH370". Another source close to the investigation said: "There is a sort of 'treasure hunt' mentality that is taking hold and people are calling us for everything."

Meanwhile, families of the victims continue their anxious wait for answers. "It has been hurting for so long," Nur Laila Ngah, the wife of steward Wan Swaid Wan Ismail, told The Guardian.  "We need the closure and all the evidence possible so that we can go ahead with our lives."

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