The fate of 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 grows increasingly grim as the unsuccessful international investigation for the missing flight continues. Before dawn on Saturday, the modern Boeing 777 aircraft traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished from all communication grids. The world is now waiting for any sign of the airplane.
How could an airplane that departed from an international airport in a country's national capital disappear without warning? Here are the top eight questions about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, answered.
1. Can an airplane easily lose all communication?
For an airplane to go completely black entails a lot. Airplanes communicate with air traffic control units not only through verbal messages via a radio system, but also through automatic transmissions. Systems within the airplane send information about the flight to stations on the ground (its altitude, its direction, etc.) Additionally, a flight crew has access to a backup radio system, should the first one fail, with the ability to quickly send a distress code for hijacking.
"For all communication to suddenly cease without a distress signal usually indicates a catastrophic failure," said aviation and airline industry writer John Goglia of Forbes.
Image Credit: AP
2. Could the airplane have run out of electricity?
To lose all electricity is also extremely unlikely. Modern airplanes such as the Boeing 777 have emergency backup systems of power, specifically a ram air turbine that converts wind power from the airstream into electrical power for the plane. If the plane did lose power, Goglia explained, the aircraft could have continued to fly into an area with radar coverage so it could appear, even momentarily, on air traffic control grids.
3. Is the lack of a distress call a warning sign?
Yes. It's the lack of any distress call that has experts thinking that whatever happened to Flight MH370 happened quickly. Airplane communications systems can be shut off on the plane, raising fears over possible hijacking or pilot suicide. Others worry a bomb was detonated, but there is no evidence of that so far.
A review of security cameras from the airport in Kuala Lumpur reveals that all security protocol was followed.
"Either you had a catastrophic event that tore the airplane apart, or you had a criminal act," said Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham Co. "It was so quick and they didn't radio."
4. Could bad weather have taken the plane down?
While a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in June 2009 due to bad weather and poor decisions by the pilots, weather for the Malaysia Airlines flight showed clear skies.
Image Credit: AP
5. Could aircraft failure be the reason?
The unlikely failure of both engines could have jeopardized the flight. But even if both engines gave out, experts say the plane would have time to glide for 20 minutes, allowing pilots to make an emergency call. Corrosion of the airplane or a mechanical malfunction are both possible, but extremely unlikely.
6. What do we know about the pilots?
7. What do we know about the passengers?
Five passengers who checked in for Flight MH370 never boarded the plane, investigators said. Additionally, at least two passengers aboard the flight used stolen passports. The FBI fears up to four passengers used stolen passports.
8. Have investigators found anything yet?
The seas around Malaysia, Vietnam and now southern China are being scoured. Vietnamese search parties thought a floating yellow object may have been a remnant of the airplane, but later ruled it out. Investigators also thought a large pool of oil in the ocean could be a sign; however, this was not related either. Monday morning debris spotted east of Saigon is being investigated. Experts reiterate that until the aircraft is found, little can be done to definitively say what happened.