The story of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 is one straight out of science fiction: The jet and its 239 passengers and crew, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, simply disappeared from radar sometime early Saturday morning and have yet to be found.
Some 90 ships are now searching the seas on each side of the Malaysian peninsula. The plane’s transponder, or the device that identifies the plane to air traffic controllers, went off as the aircraft flew over Malaysia’s east coast. Malaysian military radar picked up the plane somewhere over the Strait of Malacca on the country’s west coast, but residents of Kota Bharu, a city on Malaysia’s South China Sea coast, said they spotted an aircraft flying low around the time the plane vanished.
In other words, no one has any idea where the plane is.
“All angles are being looked at,” the airline said in a statement. “We are not ruling out any possibilities.”
It seems impossible that in an age where information crosses the globe in seconds, a Boeing 777 could simply disappear. But it’s not unprecedented. There have been other incidents where aircraft simply vanished. Here are four examples:
Air France Flight 447: In 2009, this flight went down somewhere over the Pacific Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 passengers and crew. But it took five full days to locate the plane; many of the victims have never been found. Three years later, much of the wreckage remains lost.
The black box on the plane was eventually recovered, revealing that ice caused the plane's autopilot to malfunction. The problem was exacerbated when the plane’s pilots made a series of mistakes, causing the aircraft to stall and plunge into the ocean.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571: In an incident later made famous by the movie Alive, this flight, headed to Chile from Uruguay, went down in the Andes Mountains in 1972. Fifteen of the passengers were killed in the crash and an additional 12 subsequently died as authorities searched for the plane. More than two months later, 16 survivors of the crash were finally located. They confessed that they had been forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.
Egypt Air Flight 990: Traveling from New York to Cairo, this flight disappeared into the Atlantic, south of Massachusetts in 1999, killing 217 passengers and crew members.
Heading to Cairo via New York, the aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean south of Massachusetts in 1999, killing all 217 people onboard. But the reasons for the crash remain a mystery.
The black box recorded co-pilot Gamil el-Batouty repeating, "I rely on God,” over and over, and the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that he had crashed the plane while committing suicide. But the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority determined that the plane went down due to mechanical failures.
Amelia Earhart: Earhart became one of the most famous people in the United States when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. Her ambition to fly around the world doomed her.
In 1937, Earhart was flying somewhere over an area near the Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. Her last broadcast was, “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait."
She was never heard from again and wreckage from the flight has never been found. She simply disappeared.
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