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What happened to Flight MH370?

What happened to Flight MH370? Twenty-six countries are involved in the massive international search for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard. The plane's transponder, a signal system that identifies the plane to radar, was shut off about an hour into the flight. Someone in the cockpit would have to turn a knob with multiple selections to the off position while pressing down at the same time. In addition, part of the Boeing 777's Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was shut off. In order to turn off the other part of the ACARS, it would be necessary to go to an electronics bay beneath the cockpit. If you saw the movie Snakes on a Plane with Samuel L Jackson, the dynamics were played out on the giant screen when the pilot had to open the panel beneath the cockpit in order to figure out why the wiring was shorting out. ACARS transmitter continued to send out blips that were recorded by the Inmarsat satellite once an hour for four to five hours after the transponder was turned off. The blips don't contain any messages or data, but the satellite can tell in a very broad way what region the blips are coming from and adjusts the angle of its antenna to be ready to receive message in case the ACARS sends them. Malaysian military radar was able to continue to track the plane as it turned west. Even disabled, ACARS emits hourly pulses that are recorded by a satellite. The last signal from Flight 370 was sent at 8:11 a.m.
The location of the plane could only be determined in a broad arc from the satellite, which places the jet as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia or far into the southern Indian Ocean. The southern Indian Ocean is the world's third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water in the world, with little radar coverage.
We have to assume, short of a hijacking, that the pilot was responsible for turning off the transponder. Police began searching the home of the pilot, 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah but uncovered nothing that would explain the disappearance of the aircraft. Although it was determined that the plane turned west, it most likely turned south over the Indian Ocean where it would presumably have run out of fuel. The other interpretation was that Flight MH370 continued to fly to the northwest and head over India however that scenario is unlikely because that country has strong air defense and radar coverage and that would have alerted authorities if the plane entered its airspace.
The Boeing 777 holds the world record for the longest nonstop flight by a commercial airliner, and has a maximum range of 9,380 nautical miles and three optional auxiliary fuel tanks in the rear cargo hold. The plane is designed to fly a considerable distance without having to refuel. The search area would consist of a 9,000 mile circumference leaving room for a tremendous amount of speculation, confusion, and the need for prayer for all the souls who disappeared without a trace.

A Boeing 777 prepares for takeoff in Malaysian airport
Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images
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