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Timeline of MH370

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Written by Emily McNair

Posted on 23 March 2014

The disappearance of flight MH370 has left the world in shock. In such an interconnected world, it seemed impossible to lose something as large as a Boeing 777. However, the unthinkable became reality on Saturday, March 8 when 239 souls disappeared without a trace.

At 12:41 am, the flight left the airport in Kuala Lumpur carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew. All of the crew were Malaysian; however, the passengers hailed from at least twelve different countries. Two of the passengers were traveling using stolen passports. Further investigation showed that these two men were of Iranian descent but had no link to terrorist groups.

The flight flew on for 120 nautical miles. At this point, the flight was to be handed from Malaysian air traffic control to Vietnamese air traffic control. All seemed well when the plane signed off from the Malaysians; however, it never checked in with air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City. Malaysian and Vietnamese officials began the search for the plane at the point of last contact. Malaysian ships in the area did not see any wreckage, but an oil slick was reported. Later tests showed that this oil slick was not jet fuel.

On March 9, Malaysian officials said that radar data showed that the plane may have turned back. Officials widened the search area in hopes of recovering debris from the plane. On March 10, Malaysian authorities further expanded the search area. While there had been several claims of seeing the plane, all of the leads proved false. People began wondering if MH370 had been hijacked or a bomb exploded on board; however, data from U.S. spy satellites showed that there had not been a mid-air explosion.

On Tuesday, March 11, officials began looking further into the possibility that MH370 had turned back. Military radar showed an unidentified object heading towards the Strait of Malacca after MH370 had lost contact with civilian air traffic controllers. Allegations against the plane's first officer come to light. In previous flights, he had allowed women to enter the cockpit during a previous flight. Malaysia Airlines was unable to confirm the allegations. On March 12, officials expanded the search area to include an area stretching from China to India and the pilot's last words to air traffic control, "All right, good night," were released to the public. Vietnam scaled back its search efforts while a Chinese government agency released satellite photos that may have shown debris.

The next day, this debris could not be found. Chinese officials explained that the photos had been wrongly released. "The Wall Street Journal" reported that the plane could have continued flying for about 2200 miles. Satellites received faint electronic pulses from the plane that matched this theory. However, Malaysian Transport Minister Seri Hishammuddin dismissed these claims and said that the search would continue in the South China Sea. On March 15, the search area was expanded to include parts of the Indian Ocean. The U.S.S. Kidd, a U.S. destroyer, was on its way to the Strait of Malacca to assist in the search.

On March 15, Malaysian officials confirmed that MH370 had turned back. The plane flew west over the Malaysian Peninsula before turning northwest. Officials also confirmed that the last signal from MH370 was received at 8:11 am, which was over seven hours after takeoff. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the public that actions aboard MH370, such as the disabling of communications systems, were deliberate. Satellite data showed that the plane could have flew in one of two areas - one area went north towards Kazakhstan while the other went south into the Indian Ocean. Malaysian police also search the pilot's and copilot's homes.

On March 16, the search area was expanded to include the new corridors. The number of countries involved in the search grew from 14 to 25. Malaysian officials revealed that they found a flight simulator in the copilot's home and were analyzing it. The next day, the number of countries involved in the search expanded to 25. Investigators were looking into a flight engineer who was a passenger on the plane.

On March 18, China announced that none of the Chinese on the plane had ties to terrorist groups. Thailand's air force said that MH370 may have appeared on its radar shortly after its last contact. The unidentified object was flying towards the Strait of Malacca, which is where MH370 was believed to have gone. Officials said that this information was not shared earlier because Malaysia never asked for it. New information regarding the flight path emerges. It is shown that the change in the flight path was entered into the cockpit computer, which raised more suspicion that someone on the crew orchestrated the event.

On March 19, the FBI joined the investigation. Malaysian officials said that reports of a low-flying plane in the Maldives were not related to M370. Officials also revealed that files had been deleted from the copilot's flight simulator on February 3. The German insurance company Allianz began making payouts in connection with the missing plane.

On March 20, Australia reported seeing debris on a satellite image. The largest piece was 24 meters long. Planes were sent to the location to investigate, but poor visibility limited the search.

The black box on MH370 may hold clues as to what happened. However, the Indian ocean is extremely deep and there are few vehicles capable of searching the bottom. The black box sends out an ultrasonic ping for 30 days. This ping can only be heard by those very close to the crash site, so a wide search area makes this task more difficult. As of March 23, there are 16 days remaining for the ping of MH370's black box. However, after the location of the black box has been found, it may still takes years to recover.
Colorado School of Mines

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