Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (partially found contents of missing flight recorders from disappeared passenger aircraft; 2014)
On 8th March 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, consisting of a Boeing 777-200ER, was travelling from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport when it went considerably off-course and finally vanished after 8:19 MYT. Aside from a few pieces recovered from the Indian Ocean, the plane has since been declared missing, with the 227 passengers and 12 crew most likely perishing in the flight. Since then, numerous theories have been put across regarding Flight MH370's fate. Additionally, MH370's flight data and cockpit voice recorders have never been recovered, their lost status leading to air safety recommendations that will assist recovery and effectiveness of recorders in future accidents.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around 00:41 MYT, and was expected to conduct a routine flight to Beijing Capital International Airport. The cockpit crew consisted of two pilots, captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid. Captain Zaharie was one of Malaysia Airline's most experienced pilots, while Hamid was conducting his final training flight. The flight would be expected to take around 5 hours and 34 minutes. Early on, communications with Lumpur Radar air traffic control indicated nothing out of the ordinary, ATC having cleared MH370 for flight level 350, and its crew later acknowledging this in two further messages. At 1:19 MYT, Flight MH370 would establish its final expected communication with Lumpur Radar, to acknowledge that it would soon be establishing contact with Ho Chi Minh area control centre. At 1:19:30, Captain Zaharie stated to Lumpur Radar "Good Night. Malaysian three seven zero." This would ultimately prove to be MH370's final contact with air traffic control.
Two minutes later, MH370 disappeared from secondary radar from both the Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh radar screens. This indicated that its transponder had either malfunctioned or was switched off, but Malaysia's military radar could still detect it. The radar noted that MH370 started turning towards left and began travelling west, later heading across the Strait of Malacca. Following radio silence, and with an expected ACARS data transmission having not transpired, Ho Chi Minh instructed a nearby plane flying to Narita, Japan to contact MH370. That plane's captain responded that while contact was reached, only mumbling and static could be heard. Ho Chi Minh contacted Kuala Lumpur area control centre regarding the whereabouts of MH370 at around 01:38 MYT. Following communications with Malaysia Airlines' operation centre, Kuala Lumpur eventually responded that MH370 was now in Cambodian airspace. However, Ho Chi Minh pointed out that not only was MH370 not cleared for entry towards Cambodian airspace, but even if it did, Phnom Penh air control centre had received no communication from the flight. Ho Chi Minh then instructed another plane, Malaysia Airlines Flight 386, to re-establish communications with MH370. Ultimately, despite using both the same Lumpur Radar and emergency frequencies, no contact was made.
Despite this, MH370 was still being detected by Malaysian military radar. At around 02:22 MYT, the final radar signal was received, indicating that MH370 was the crossing Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea. Three minutes later, the Boeing 777-200ER a "log-on request" message was transmitted from the Boeing's satellite communication system and received by Inmarsat ground stations. This system helped prove MH370 was still flying, with further requests made until about 8:19 MYT, more than an hour and 40 minutes after it was supposed to have touched down in Beijing. After sending a "log-on acknowledgement" message at that time, MH370 would never be heard from again. A final status request from Inmarsat at around 9:15 yielded no response. Search and rescue efforts began at the South China Sea and Andaman Sea, eventually focusing on the Indian Ocean based on Inmarsat satellite information. Despite it being the most expensive search for a missing aircraft in history, only a few pieces of debris have ever been recovered. All 227 passengers and 12 crew have since been presumed dead, with Malaysian officials declaring the flight to have ended in an accident.
The Missing Flight Recorders
Theories surrounding Flight MH370's fate are numerous and are extensively documented outside the Lost Media Wiki. Hypotheses include possible hijacking by terrorists, a possible suicide committed by captain Zaharie, the plane possibly being shot down or victimised by a cyberattack, and outlandish theories such as a black hole and possible alien abduction. Information critical towards debunking and possibly confirming certain theories likely dwell within MH370's flight data recorder, which details the plane's flight operating conditions, and cockpit voice recorder, which provides crew communication and other cockpit sounds. Both are designed to not only withstand the most serious of accidents but also carry underwater locator beacons (ULBs) that provide electronic pulses indicating their location, even when submerged 14,000 feet under the sea.
However, the ULBs contained a critical flaw: they only had a maximum battery life of 30 days. Thus, the race was on to recover the flight recorders before the ULBs finally expired in mid-April. Various ships and ADV Ocean Shield would detect possible pulses throughout early-April, with the Ocean Shield recording several following the deployment of its tower pinger locator. However, it was unable to detect them again, with none affirming to be from MH370. The final chance of obtaining the ULB pulses came on 14th April; this time, Ocean Shield deployed a Bluefin-21, which can autonomously move across the seabed to detect pulses. However, the vehicle was unable to detect its whereabouts or any debris, and the area it was travelling through was officially ruled out as MH370's resting place by late-May 2014. Ultimately, no search and rescue party was able to detect the pulses in the time period before the ULBs would be expected to stop functioning. On 28th April, the original search was called off. Another search imposed by the Malaysian, Australian, and Chinese governments ultimately came to nothing by the time it was ended in January 2017.
Since then, a few reports indicating the recovery of both flight recorders have ultimately been debunked. For instance, news started circulating that MH370's cockpit voice recorder was found, and contained the following message translated from military codesign: "Danger SOS it is dire for you to evacuate be cautious they are not human sos danger SOS". Ultimately, it was debunked as fake news generated from Your News Wire, the message having been obtained from an altered voicemail previously published on Twitter. In May 2016, a flight data recorder was recovered from a Somali beach, with speculation arising that it could have been from MH370 given that debris from was recovered from two Mozambique beaches. However, it was deduced that recorder was considerably older than the "orange brick" recorders MH370 would have contained.
The limitations of the ULBs led to discussion on enhancing flight recorder recovery and effectiveness. Criticism over ULB battery life did not actually begin with Flight MH370; on 1st June 2009, Air France Flight 447 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 on-board. A Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety investigation did not reach proper conclusions as the flight recorders were lost until May 2011, when they were recovered from the ocean floor. Recommendations were then made to increase ULB battery life and make the black boxes float, as this could have resulted in 447's flight recorders being recovered sooner. Additionally, criticism surrounds the storage limits of the flight recorders. Particularly, the cockpit voice recorder can only hold two hours' worth of material; it tapes over the previous data it holds. Because the plane was in the air for many hours following MH370's final radio contact, it means that all conversations in the cockpit immediately prior to losing outside contact are permanently lost, even if the recorder is finally recovered.
Thus, in March 2016, the Chicago Convention contained new requirements demanding that all planes from 2021 onwards contain cockpit voice recorders with a capacity to store at least 25 hours of communication. Further, recovery of recorders was considered, with planes now expected to have all flight recorder data be recoverable and available in a timely fashion.
While key cockpit voice recorder data outside of air traffic control communication is now forever lost, all of MH370's contact with air traffic controllers was recorded at the respective towers. The tapes were released in a preliminary report from Malaysian officials in April 2014, with a transcript also being provided. Naturally, it is unclear whether the two hours contained within the recorder itself are of usefulness to the investigation. Ultimately, the data from it, and the critical aircraft information from the flight data recorder, will remain inaccessible unless a future search finally recovers them.
- 1998 Cavalese Cable Car Disaster (lost cockpit recording of aviation-related accident; 1998)
- Malév Flight 240 (lost flight recorders and crash investigation reports of fatal passenger aircraft crash; 1975)
- Pan Am Flight 708 (lost flight recorders of fatal cargo aircraft crash; 1966)
- Varig Flight 967 (lost flight recorders and Manabu Mabe paintings of disappeared cargo aircraft; 1979)
- Final report by the The Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Atlantic providing an extensive overview of the flight. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Aviation Safety Network summarising the flight and recovery efforts. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Britannica providing an overview of the flight, subsequent recovery efforts, and theories surrounding MH370's fate. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- CNN providing a timeline of key flight events. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Guardian providing the flight's cockpit transcript. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Asia One reporting on a Narita, Japan flight being instructed to contact MH370, only to hear mumbling and static. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Wired summarising some of the theories surrounding MH370's fate. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Snopes summarising the debunked claim the cockpit voice recorder was recovered and contained an SOS message. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- NTSB providing definitions for the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Sydney Morning Herald reporting on demand for enhanced flight recorder technology in the wake of MH370 and Air France Flight 447. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- BBC News detailing the limitations of black boxes, including their low battery life, storage limits, and inability to float. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Phys detailing how monitoring on plane should change following MH370. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Guardian reporting on the race to find the flight recorders. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- BBC News reporting on the various pulses being detected and searched. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Sydney Morning Herald reporting on the ADV Ocean Shield being unable to re-detect the pulses. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- BBC News reporting on the pulses detected by the Ocean Shield and investigated by Bluefin-21 being debunked. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- MIT Spectrum reporting on Bluefin-21 being deployed to find the plane. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- The Guardian reporting on the flight data recorder debunked as being from MH370. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Admiral Cloudberg detailing the crash of Air France Flight 447. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- Ars Technica reporting on the changes in the Chicago Convention made effective in 2021, primarily affecting flight recorders. Retrieved 17th Jan '23
- CNN reporting on the air traffic control tapes being released. Retrieved 17th Jan '23