A worldwide search is under way for a Malaysian passenger jet that appears to have vanished while flying more than 200 passengers over Southeast Asia.
As of Tuesday, investigators still seem to have no clue about what happened or where these hundreds of people might be.
The giant Boeing 777-200 left Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, at 12:41 a.m. Saturday (Friday afternoon ET), and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. the same day. What was supposed to be a routine commercial flight became a mystery around 1:30 a.m., when air traffic controllers stationed outside Kuala Lumpur lost contact with the plane as it flew over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.
As for the moments leading up to the plane’s disappearance, the pilots reportedly did not mention any problems or send any distress signals to air traffic control. The weather conditions were good, and the jet was in the “safest point in the flight,” according to an aviation expert.
The plane might have been headed back to Kuala Lumpur before it vanished, according to Malaysian military officials, but the pilots had not informed the tower they would be doing so.
Ten countries have contributed a total of 40 ships and 34 planes to assist in the ongoing, large-scale search at sea, but officials have warned relatives of the flight’s passengers to prepare for the worst.
“Unfortunately, we have not found anything that appears to be an object from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, said at Monday’s news conference.
“For the aircraft to go missing just like that … as far as we are concerned, we are equally puzzled as well.”
So, how in the world did a large airplane disappear into thin air?
Here is a breakdown of what we know (and, still don’t know), so far:
Who is on the plane?
- Of the 239 people on board, there are 227 passengers, 12 crew members, nine seniors and five children under 5-years-old. A delegation of respected calligraphers and painters are also on board, as well as a group of Buddhist pilgrims returning from a religious gathering, employees of an American semiconductor company and more. Authorities revealed that five passengers ended up not boarding the flight and had their bags removed.
Where are they from?
- The diverse crowd hails from more than a dozen nations, including India, Indonesia, Australia, the U.S., France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Russia and the Netherlands. Three U.S. citizens boarded the aircraft. A majority of the passengers are from China or Taiwan (154) and Malaysia (38).
Are there any leads?
- Authorities later discovered that two people using stolen Italian and Austrian passports also boarded the plane, having bought their tickets the prior Thursday in Thailand (where the passports were reported stolen in 2013 and 2012). The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) has identified the men using the stolen passports as Pouria Nour Mohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, both Iranians, CNN reports.
- It is not yet known whether Mohammadi and Reza have any connections to the plane’s disappearance. Malaysian police reportedly believe the teenager might have been using the stolen Austrian passport to emigrate to Germany (the final destination of his ticket).
- Even though the stolen passports were allegedly in Interpol’s database, no checks were ever made on the them in the case of this or previous flights. Malaysian authorities are still investigating how the passengers were able to board an international flight.
What are the suspected causes?
- Experts and analysts have shared plenty of theories on the plane’s mystery disappearance, but a majority of discussions have centered on the pilots, mechanical failure and terrorism. However, because very little information is known about the incident, these three reasonings are still only theories.
Is this the first time a plane has disappeared?
- No. An Air France flight with 228 people on board an Airbus A330 disappeared in June 2009. The plane was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Two years (and four searches) later, the cause of the accident (airspeed inconsistencies), the wreckage and most of the bodies were finally found in a mountain range deep under the Atlantic Ocean. However, unlike the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 mystery, the first major wreckage was found within five days of the investigation.
The investigation of the missing airline continues.