In the early hours of March 8th 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur when, all of a sudden, all contact with those onboard the Boeing 777-200ER was lost. The position of the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control, indicating the aircraft’s transponder was no longer functioning. Malaysian military radar continued to trace the aircraft, which almost immediately began to change direction. Several hours later, an hour after the aircraft’s scheduled arrival time at Beijing, Malaysia Airlines issued a press statement announcing that Flight 370 was missing. At this time, unbeknownst to members of the press and family members of those onboard MH370, the aircraft was still in the air, and would be for at least another 50 minutes before disappearing completely.
Over the next four years, an extensive search for the remains of the aircraft and its passengers was carried out, but yielded no results. The search, which covered over 46,332 sq miles and cost a reported 160 million USD finally ended in May of 2018, when the Malaysian government stated that it had no plans to extend the search any further. The disappearance of Flight 370, with its 239 crew and passengers, still remains one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history.
In the absence of a definitive explanation for MH370’s disappearance, many theories have flourished. Some are rather reasonable and not far outside the realm of possibility, whereas others are completely bonkers. So, without further adieu, here is my countdown for the top 5 most bonkers MH370 conspiracies debunked.
5) Shakira and the Rapper Pitbull Had Prior Knowledge of Flight MH370’s Disappearance
In June of 2012, the American rapper Pitbull released the song “Get It Started”, which featured guest vocals from Colombian-Lebanese singer, Shakira. Here in the UK, the song went mostly unnoticed, only reaching 64 in the charts until some pointed out that the lyrics suggest that Pitbull is either clairvoyant, or that he had prior knowledge of the disappearance of flight MH370.
The lines cited most often by advocates of this conspiracy theory are, “Now it’s off to Malaysia” and, “Two passports, three cities, two countries, one day”. They believe that the “three cities” Pitbull is referring to are Kuala Lumpur, where MH370 took off, Beijing, its destination, and Ho Chi Minh, where it was due to communicate with Vietnamese air-traffic-control before contact was lost. The “two countries” apparently are Malaysia and Thailand, which MH370 flew over before disappearing from radar. As for the line “Two passports”, some believe it refers to the two Iranians on the flight who were travelling using stolen passports, which raised the possibility of terrorism as an explanation for the missing flight.
The first thing to be noted is that “Get It Started” never predicted anything! Instead, people have retrospectively interpreted the lyrics, making it a post-diction (statements that appear to come true only after the events already happened). Nobody before MH370 disappeared ever listened to the song and thought, ‘I wonder if Shakira and Pitbull are trying to warn us about a Boeing 777-200ER vanishing sometime in the future’. Let’s also not forget that MH370 wasn’t going to Malaysia, it was leaving it, and as for the “three cities, two countries, one day”, Pitbull could just as easily be predicting a trip I made in 2016 to Glasgow from Newcastle via Edinburgh. As for the two Iranians (Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza) who boarded the aircraft using stolen passports, they were simply trying to migrate to Germany.
We all have a tendency to seek patterns in random information, and it’s not uncommon for us to perceive connections and meanings between unrelated things. This is why so many conspiracy theories are accompanied with a similar story of foreshadowing and warnings. For example, some say that the Simpsons predicted 9/11, that The Dark Knight Rises warned us about the future Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and that Man of Steel also had prior knowledge of flight MH370 disappearance.
It’s important that we recognise these connections for what they are – at their best, they are interesting coincidences, and nothing more.
4) MH370 Landed on a Secret U.S. Military Base
Within hours of the news breaking that a Malaysian Airlines 777 had not only gone missing, but that there was evidence that it remained in the air well after communications were lost, people online were concocting elaborate theories to try and explain its disappearance. One theory that quickly gained traction was that the aircraft was hijacked and taken to Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean home to an American base.
Evidence for the conspiracy comes from a single blank picture and accompanying text apparently sent from Phillip Wood, one of the passengers onboard Flight MH370. According to the text message, Wood hid his iPhone 5 in his anus during the hijacking and, presumably after the aircraft landed, was separated from his fellow passengers and placed into a cell.
“I have been held hostage by unknown military personal after my flight was hijacked (blindfolded). I work for IBM and I have managed to hide my cellphone in my ass during the hijack. I have been separated from the rest of the passengers and I am in a cell. My name is Philip Wood. I think I have been drugged as well and cannot think clearly.”
The blank image, according to those who support this theory, is the “smoking gun” as it contains evidence within its metadata that the picture was taken on Diego Garcia after MH370 vanished. The image’s Exchangeable Image Format (Exif) file which, according to proponents of this theory, cannot be altered, contained information about the camera used to take the photo including settings, date and time the picture was taken, and GPS data. The data shows that it was taken on an iPhone 5, and the GPS coordinates indicate that the photo was taken within the vicinity of Diego Garcia.
Despite what conspiracy theorists would have you believe, you can easily change the Exif data and, if that wasn’t enough, there are errors with the forgery. The Exif data is not in a standard iPhone 5 format, and it lacks altitude data. Mick West of Metabunk looked closer into the image’s metadata and found that it had been altered using the free software, “Picasa”. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for this conspiracy theory is that this photo was originally posted on 4Chan, a site notorious for internet hoaxes. In my opinion, the reason why they chose Phillip above everyone else on the flight was because his girlfriend, who he was planning to move from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur with, was very vocal in the media about her beliefs that the plane was taken and that he was still alive.
3) MH370 and MH17 Were the Same Plane
2014 was a bad year for Malaysian airlines. Four months after the disappearance of MH370, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine on its way to Kuala Lumpur, killing everyone onboard. The Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led joint investigation team concluded that the airliner was downed by a surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. The two unusual events, both involving a Boeing 777 owned by Malaysian airlines, sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive and they soon began to construct a nefarious narrative to explain the events. Eventually the idea that MH17 was actually MH370, and that it was deliberately destroyed to damage Russian credibility, became the predominant theory.
The evidence they have for such a swap comes from photos of a large piece of debris found at the crash site. The debris in question is a sizeable chunk of the fuselage with several windows, a door, and the Malaysian flag. Conspiracy theorists claim that the window configuration does not match the aircraft used on the MH17 route that day (9M-MRD), but instead matches the plane which vanished 4 months earlier (MH370 AKA 9M-MRO). Furthermore, they postulate that when the powers that be discovered their mistake, they photoshopped in a window.
Originally, the aircraft on the MH17 route (9M-MRD) did have a window by the door, but it was blanked out sometime after 2006. This blanking out has been documented by plane spotters, who also noticed that MH370 (9M-MRO) also had the same window blanked out at the same time.
Contrary to what the conspiracy theorists would have you believe, the photos of the fuselage debris were not photoshopped. The pictures were taken days apart, and in that time, someone must have damaged the window. Although I have no evidence for this, it’s a better explanation than shadowy figures hijacked HM370, took it to a secret military base on Diego Garcia (did I forget to mention this is a continuation of the hijacking theory), and retrofitted it to make it look like it did pre-2006 for…reasons.
2) I’m Not Saying It Was Aliens, but It Was Aliens
Around the fourth anniversary of MH370 disappearing, a particularly outlandish theory began making the rounds when a twitter user by the name of TJ (@strayedaway) got a strange voicemail left on his phone. In the message, an automated female voice reads off a series of letters in the phonetic alphabet that spell out the message…
“S Danger SOS it is dire for you to evacuate be caution they are not human 042933964230 SOS Danger SOS.”
The messages also came with a series of numbers, which some believe are coordinates which correspond to Aceh, a northern province of Indonesia, putting it close to where MH370 disappeared. Tj’s tweet went somewhat viral and soon after, he began to receive other strange messages including one in Indonesian telling him to “End the post you just shared about the recording in your phone”, and one in Morse code saying “they are taking over”. Users online began to speculate about the the message and eventually a narrative was formed. The dominant theory was that Tj had received a message from one of the black boxes onboard MH370.
Black boxes, or flight recorders, are electronic devices that record information on an airplane to be used in the event of a severe incident. Usually, an aircraft will carry two types – the first is a flight data recorder, which records the instructions sent to a planes electronic systems, whereas the second is a cockpit voice recorder. Black boxes underwater emit locator beacon signals, or pings, for up to 30 days before the batteries die. They do not have the ability to convert speech into text; nor do they have the ability to ring or text anyone! As for the coordinates, they aren’t really coordinates, it’s just a random number and, depending on where you put the decimal point, you could be in Indonesia or you could be in Cameroon or the Tyrrhenian Sea.
It is more than likely that the creepy voicemail was either made by Tj himself to troll the internet for likes and attention, or by someone he knows pulling a prank on him. The subsequent messages threatening and warning will be from people trolling him. In an interview with Shane Dawson, Tj even says that he doesn’t believe in any of this nonsense.
1) Man Murdered Trying to Investigate MH370
Just over a year after MH370 disappeared, a large piece of debris was found washed up on the beach east of Madagascar on Réunion island. This 2.7 meter-long object was a flaperon, which is used to increase drag for take off and landing, and to bank the aircraft. The serial number on the front showed that it was from a 777 and, as MH370 was the only missing aircraft of that type, it must have come from that aircraft.
Soon, more and more pieces would start washing up on the shores of South East Africa, Madagascar, and the surrounding islands. One of these pieces ended up in the hands of Malaysian diplomat, Houssenaly Zahid Raza, who, whilst tasked with transporting the suspected debris of MH370 to investigators, was gunned down and killed. Some have speculated that the murder took place in an effort to hinder the investigation into the missing aircraft.
In Madagascar, Raza’s name is associated with the kidnapping of several residents of Indo-Pakistani descent in Fianarantsoa. Local reports suggest that Raza was a marked man long before his involvement with HM370 and that his murder was in retaliation for his alleged involvement with the abductions. At the time of his death, Raza was not in possession of the suspected MH370 fragments and afterwards, other arrangements were made to send them to Malaysian authorities. Because they have since not made it onto a list of known debris from the missing aircraft, I think it’s safe to assume they were just unrelated flotsam and jetsam.
At the time of writing this blog-post, we still don’t know for sure what exactly happened to MH370, but analysis of all available evidence points towards an unresponsive crew, or a hypoxia event. A fire in the cockpit could have caused the loss of transponders and communications in the aircraft. The crew then might have been trying to find a nearby airfield and turned the aircraft west. They were then overcome by smoke, leaving the autopilot to fly until the plane ran out of fuel and crashed somewhere over the ocean. Another explanation is that the cabin lost pressure, starving the crew of oxygen, causing the loss of cognitive function and trembling of their extremities. It’s possible that, whilst trying to turn the airplane transponder to emergency code, one of the pilots accidentally turned it to standby. The lack of oxygen could have then caused them to fail to respond correctly to the situation, and eventually to fall unconscious, leaving the aircraft to fly on autopilot before running out of fuel. A similar situation happened onboard Helios Airways Flight 522, when it too experienced a lack of cabin pressure, this time as a result of the crew failing to check the aircraft’s pressurisation systems before take-off. As they climbed, the pressure and temperature inside the cabin gradually decreased, and the crew lost their ability to think correctly. Their resultant mistakes led to all but one onboard to lose consciousness as the plane continued to fly on autopilot. A steward onboard, Andreas Prodromou, remained conscious by using a portable oxygen supply and entered the cockpit to try and gain control. However, soon after doing this, one of the engines flamed out due to fuel exhaustion, which sealed Flight 522’s fate. All 115 passengers and 6 crew died when it crashed into the ground near Grammatiko, Greece.
At the moment, there are so many unanswered questions, and we may never know what really happened, but just because we don’t have a concrete explanation doesn’t mean we should entertain elaborate conspiracy theories about MH370.