In Depth

The mystery of MH370 and other planes that vanished

The fate of the Malaysia Airlines flight remains unknown eight years after its disappearance

It has been eight years since flight MH370 vanished on its journey en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, becoming one of the most infamous unsolved mysteries in aviation history. 

Unanswered questions remain over the flight's disappearance, such as why its communication system was disabled, and why the aircraft apparently executed a U-turn before it disappeared.

But while theories have been put forward over the aircraft's fate – from a hijacking attempt, a murder-suicide bid, or simply a mechanical malfunction – the families of those on board still have few answers. 

This is also not the first time a plane has gone missing. Here are eight other planes that vanished from the skies leaving barely a trace:

The 'stolen' Boeing 727-233

In 2003, a Boeing 727-233, registered N844AA, began taxiing along the runway at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, Angola with no communication between the crew and the tower. The mid-sized plane manoeuvred towards the runway and took off without clearance. The jet then headed west over the Atlantic ocean with its lights off and its transponder not transmitting, and has never been seen since. On board were two men, neither of whom were believed to have been capable of flying the aircraft, Air and Space magazine reported. A worldwide search by the FBI and CIA failed to locate either the plane or its crew and was eventually called off. To this day, the whole incident remains a mystery.

The Guardian reported a possible sighting of the plane a few months after its disappearance, but it was never officially confirmed. 

Mid-air art heist?

A cargo plane belonging to Varig Brazilian Airlines disappeared in January 1979 just 30 minutes after it took off from Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Adding to the mystery of the plane’s disappearance, on board were 153 paintings valued at more than $1.2m (£700,000). Neither the plane, its crew nor the paintings have been seen since.

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

One of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history is what happened to the Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 in 1962. The US military flight carrying 90 military personnel took off from Guam, in the western Pacific, but never arrived at its destination in the Philippines. The plane issued no distress call and no wreckage has ever been found. The crew of a Liberian tanker claimed to have seen an "intensely luminous" light in the sky, which some believe may have indicated the flight exploded in mid-air, but the US Civil Aeronautics board ruled it was "unable to determine the probable cause of the incident", Time magazine reported.

Bermuda Triangle

Several planes disappeared in the region between Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda in the 1940s in mysteries that have been the focus of intense interest from conspiracy theorists and aeronautical historians ever since. Two British South American Airways passenger jets vanished in the area in 1948 and 1949. Fifty-one passengers and crew were lost in the two incidents, one involving a Star Tiger plane and the other a Star Ariel plane. In an official report into the Tiger incident, investigators said they were "baffled" by the aircraft's disappearance. Several other planes have disappeared in the region including five US bombers that vanished in 1945, but in spite of massive air and sea searches, no trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.

Air France Flight 447

In 2009 a flight from Rio De Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 228 passengers and crew. After a day of searching wreckage was spotted and parts of the plane, including the black boxes, were eventually recovered. But the bodies of 74 passengers were never located, and it took three full years to conclude that the crash had been caused by a combination of ice build-up, mechanical failure and pilot error.

Top Gun crash

Stunt pilot Art Scholl crashed and disappeared without trace when his Pitt S-2 camera plane crashed during filming for a scene for the Hollywood film Top Gun. Scholl had intentionally put the plane into a flat spin to film a scene for the movie, but the aircraft never recovered from the manoeuvre and plunged into the ocean. Scholl's last recorded words were: "I've got a problem here," the LA Times reported. The film was dedicated to his memory.

Amelia Earhart

Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared in her Lockheed Model 10 Electra somewhere over the central Pacific Ocean in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. In spite of a multi-million pound search effort, no remnants of her plane have ever been found. Earhart was officially declared dead in 1939, but speculation about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance continues to this day.

EgyptAir flight MS804

EgyptAir flight MS804 crashed in the Mediterranean on 19 May, with 66 people on board: 56 passengers, seven aircrew and three security personnel. It took nearly a month before the wreckage was found. The data recorder “confirmed the presence of smoke on board, while the voice recorder captured conversation in the cockpit about a fire”, said the BBC. In 2018, the French civil aviation authority said the most likely cause of the crash was a fire in the cockpit, which then rapidly spread,  “causing the loss of control of the aircraft”. But Egyptian authorities have disputed this finding, instead claiming the aircraft had been bombed and that “traces of explosives had been found on the victims’ remains”, reported The Guardian.

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