The black boxes have not been found — and only small pieces of wreckage have washed up on beaches thousands of miles from where the plane is thought to have crashed. But aviation experts assembled by the Australian news program 60 Minutes have a theory for what brought down the Boeing 777 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing: the Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in a murder-suicide. Their versions of events was presented on air Sunday.
The hypothesis put forward by the report was delivered by Larry Vance, a veteran aircraft investigator from Canada. Vance says that the pilot, Captain Zaharie Amad Shah, turned off transponders and then depressurized the airplane, ensuring that the passengers wouldn't interfere with his plan. “He was killing himself," Vance told Australia's 60 Minutes. "Unfortunately, he was killing everyone else onboard. And he did it deliberately.”
This would explain why there were no calls for help from anyone on the flight crew and also why no passengers used cell phones to try to contact their loved ones, either. The depressurization would have left them unconscious.
One clue that leads investigators to this conclusion is that at two points, the person controlling the plane, presumably Shah, tipped the aircraft to the left. It was being guided to its final destination, and it passed by somewhere significant along the way. Investigators told 60 Minutes that the plane passed by Shah's hometown of Penang, Malaysia.
That's where the plane tipped to the left, which would have given the pilot a better view of where he grew up. "I spent a long time thinking about what this could be, what technical reason is there for this," Simon Hardy, a flight instructor and Boeing 777 senior pilot, told the Australian 60 Minutes. "And, after two months, three months thinking about this, I finally got the answer: Someone was looking out the window.”
Another clue is the route that the plane took, the experts argued. They said that Shah guided the plane along the border with Malaysia and Thailand, and was at times in both country's airspace. This meant that neither country's air traffic control thought it was in charge of the plane.
Not everyone was so quick to pass judgment. One key expert interviewed was air-safety expert Martin Dolan, who used to head the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and oversaw the search for the plane for two-and-a-half years, starting in 2014. “There are the families of the 239 people out there that at the moment still do not have an answer to what happened to their loved ones,” Dolan told 60 Minutes. “I’m still passionately committed to finding this aircraft.”
The plane is thought to have crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia, China, and Australia called off the official search for the plane in January 2017. The official story is that without more information, a cause of the crash cannot be assigned.
Most recently a private company led another search for the plane over 90 days in early 2018. Experts thought there was an 85 percent chance the plane wreckage would be in an area identified by computer modeling. It's more than 25,000 square kilometers. Their search has thus far come up empty-handed, and is expected to end in June.
The latest theory could impact where the search should take place, too. "This was a mission by one of the crew to hide the aircraft as far away from civilization as possible," Hardy told 60 Minutes. "Which puts us way outside the search area that is currently being done."
Facts may point in one direction, but only solving the mystery of the plane will officially close the case.