What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? 5 Theories Explained

On 8 March 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 suddenly disappeared from radar on its journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The Boeing 777 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members at the time of its disappearance, and as people searched for the missing plane a number of theories began circulating about exactly what had happened.

Netflix examines all of the different possible explanations for the plane's disappearance in its new documentary MH370: The Plane That Disappeared, which premiered on Wednesday, March 8.

Was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Ever Found?

MH370: The Plane That Disappeared
Main image, a passenger jet. Inset a still from the Netflix documentary "MH370: The Plane That Disappeared." The documentary explores the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Netflix

Since MH370's disappearance, authorities from Malaysia, China and Australia have carried out an extensive search for the aircraft without success, the search officially ending in January 2017.

The families of those lost are still looking for answers, and on March 7, 2023 it was reported by the Guardian that they are urging the Malaysian government to green light another search as US marine robotics company Ocean Infinity claims to have new evidence that could lead to answers.

In a statement by Voice370, a group run by the relatives of those on board, they said: "While the next of kin of the passengers and crew on board attempt to rebuild our lives, the threat to global aviation safety remains a live issue.

"As long as we remain in the dark about what happened to MH370, we will never be able to prevent a similar tragedy. Accordingly, we believe that it is a matter of paramount importance that the search for MH370 is carried out to its completion."

What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? 5 Theories Explained

MH370's last contact happened when the airplane was entering Vietnamese airspace in the early hours of March 8, but it is known the flight changed course.

After MH370's communication the plane suddenly took a sharp left turn and re-entered Malaysian airspace before it flew for almost six hours over the Indian Ocean before dropping off radar completely.

The disappearance spawned a number of theories regarding what might have happened to the airplane, which are explored in the Netflix three-part documentary series.

1. The Plane Crashed

Debris either confirmed or believed to be from MH370 has washed up over the years. The first piece of debris was found on the shore of Indian Ocean island of Réunion in 2015 and other pieces have since been discovered in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius.

A total of 33 pieces of debris had been found by December 2016, per Reuters, but only three have been positively identified as being from MH370. This indicates that the plane crashed, potentially into the Indian Ocean.

In an official report from the Malaysian government about the disappearance in July 2018, Dr. Kok Soo Chon said at a press conference that "no record of malfunction or defect in the aircraft that could have contributed to the disappearance" had been found.

2. The Plane Was Shot Down Because of its cargo

One theory suggested in the documentary suggests that the plane could have been shot down over the South China Sea, allegedly because of the cargo that the plane was carrying.

The families of those who where onboard the plane called for the Malaysian government to look into whether there was shrapnel evident in the debris that had been identified as being from MH370, per Reuters.

3. The Pilot was Responsible

Another theory explored in the Netflix documentary is whether MH370 disappeared as part of a "murder-suicide plot" by pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

The pilot's home flight simulator appeared to indicate he had flown a similar route, where the plane was diverted from its intended path. The theory suggests he manually switched off radar communications and depressurized the cabin, leaving the plane on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

However, in the government's official report Kok said: "We have examined the pilot and the first officer and we are quite satisfied with their background, with their training, with their mental health.

"We are not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot."

4. The Plane was Hijacked

One theory that was suggested was that MH370 was hijacked during its journey, with a claim in the documentary saying that Russian hijakers took over the plane to distract attention from Moscow's occupation of Crimea.

This theory was suggested because another Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a Russian missile while it was flying over Ukraine in July 2014.

In the government's official report, Kok said that they were not ruling out any suggestion that a third party was involved in MH370's disappearance, which adds some weight to the theory.

He said: "It has been established that the air turn back was done under manual control, not autopilot… we cannot rule out unlawful interference by a third party."

However, it was stressed that no terrorist organization has publicly claimed responsibility for the plane's disappearance.

5. U.S. Military Was Responsible

Another theory touted by Marc Dugain, former director of Proteus Airlines, suggests the plane was shot down by the U.S. military, which was then covered up.

Dugain claimed MH370 was shot down to avoid the plane crashing into the American military base on the island of Diego Garcia, per The Independent.

MH370: The Plane That Disappeared is out on Netflix now.