The mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues to baffle authorities, stymie experts, and generate countless theories about the plane’s whereabouts.
Some of the most imaginative hypotheses posit that the plane, which disappeared during its March 8 journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was not destroyed somewhere in the ocean, but instead landed in some undetermined place for unknown reasons. Here are nine of the most intriguing ideas, and the details (or lack thereof) that make them sort of plausible.
1. Abandoned Airstrip: Several experts have pointed to temporary, makeshift airstrips created during World War II and the Vietnam War as sites where the Boeing 777 might have touched down with its 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Airstrip theorists speculate that the plane could have used one of these old airfields without detection — either as an emergency measure or in a preplanned operation.
2. “Somewhere in the Jungle”: MSNBC talker Ed Schultz opened his Monday show offering his version of what happened to the plane. Citing his experience as a pilot, the MSNBC host walked viewers through the different parts of the cockpit, arguing that it’s possible to land the plane in more places than people think. Schultz holds that flight captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had the experience and the skill to pull off a secret landing.
“I think this is a well-funded, high-tech hijack operation and it’s sitting somewhere in the jungle, and yeah — I think they carved out a strip for it,” he said,
3. Pakistan: The Independent reports that Malaysian investigators explored the possibility that the plane landed somewhere in northwest Pakistan, which is largely controlled by the Taliban and contains a number of possible airbases with viable runways. The plane’s apparent last known course could have brought it to the volatile Muslim country. Pakistani officials have cooperated but say there is no sign that the plane entered the country.
“You draw that arc, and you look at countries like Pakistan, and you get into your Superman novels, and you see the plane landing somewhere and repurposing it for some dastardly deed down the road,” former FBI official James Kallstrom said on CNN. “I mean, that’s not beyond the realm of realism — that could happen.”
For what it’s worth, actor Rob Lowe isn’t sure we can scratch Pakistan off the list simply because Pakistani officials say so.
4. Andaman Islands: Reuters points to evidence that the plane was taking a route to the Bay of Bengal archipelago. Some authorities suggest that’s where it was headed.
But locals are rejecting that theory. “There is no chance, no such chance, that any aircraft of this size can come towards Andaman and Nicobar Islands and land,” the editor of a local newspaper said. Indian search missions have been exploring the more than 500 islands in the area for nearly a week, without success.
5. Loaded Up for Explosives: House Homeland Security committee chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said it’s still possible the plane is being secretly parked somewhere for later use as a weapon.
“The other possible theory that we’re looking at is that it could have landed somewhere, filled with explosives, and then been sent somewhere to cause some great damage,” he warned on Fox News Monday.
6. “Act of Piracy”: The Independent quotes a U.S. official saying the mystery could be a result of an “act of piracy” in an area where pirates (on the sea at least) are not uncommon. The plane could conceivably be sold for millions of dollars and the passengers ransomed. This leaves open the question of why the hijackers have not demanded a ransom or given any evidence that the hostages are alive in the ten days since Flight 370 vanished.
7. “Test-run” for Terrorists: Skeptics point to the fact that nobody has claimed responsibility for attacking Flight 370 as evidence against a hijacking. But aviation consultant Scott Hamilton told MSNBC there may be a calculated reason for this silence. “If this was a test run, then they don’t want to tell anybody about that, and they want the airplane in a location that adds to the mystery,” he said.
8. Cover-up: David Learmont, an editor at aviation news site Flightglobal, doesn’t quite suggest that the plane landed somewhere, but he wonders if national governments involved are withholding information to hide their security vulnerabilities.
“Maybe these states’ air defences, like Malaysia’s, are not what they are cracked up to be,” he wrote. “And maybe they wouldn’t want the rest of the world to know that.”
Reuters found that maintaining full operation radar facilities can be “too expensive” for some countries, leaving gaps in their air systems.
“Several nations will be embarrassed by how easy it is to trespass their airspace,” a retired British Royal Air Force pilot said. “You get what you pay for. And the world, by and large, does not pay.”
9. Somalia or Mongolia: A Malaysian air force official suggested that Flight 370 could have made its way to some of the world’s most unstable, insecure countries through a carefully maneuvered route. The route the plane appears to have been on before losing contact went along several national borders where radar is weak and detection can be avoided, the official told China’s Tencent.
The official noted that Somalia has little to no authority to prevent an unauthorized landing. Meanwhile, Mongolia is a known spot for smuggling.