It’s been almost five days since a Malaysia Airlines jetliner went missing with 239 people on board and authorities still don't have the faintest idea where it went or what happened to it. You read that correctly: A jumbo jet is unaccounted for, and no one knows where the hell it is. If that sounds totally crazy, well, that’s because it is. Even so, there is some information that we do have about the missing Boeing 777. So in case you're just now getting into this story, we've collected the most important facts about one of the year's strangest tragedies:
Where was the plane going?
The plane took off from Kuala Lampur at 12:41 a.m. on Saturday night headed for Beijing.
When did authorities realize something was wrong?
Contact was lost with flight controllers less than an hour after takeoff. The plane had reached 35,000 feet and was flying between Southern Vietnam and the East Coast of Malaysia. The last words communicated by the plane, as reported by the Strait Times, were “All right, good night.” Everything seemed to be normal at that time.
I heard this could have been a terrorist attack.
It’s possible. Two Iranian men reportedly boarded the plane with stolen passports. One, a 19-year-old man named Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad was using an Austrian passport. The other, 29-year-old Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, was using an Italian passport. While that sounds suspicious, the New York Times says it is unlikely that the stolen IDs point to terror involvement. Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman has suggested that the men could be connected to a stolen passport ring, however. Interpol, for its part, said it was aware of the stolen passports, but no authorities had checked its databases before the flight’s departure. Then again, CIA Director John Brennan says he wouldn't rule out terrorism. We just don’t know.
But how can someone board a plane with a stolen passport in 2014?
Actually, it’s easier than you’d think. About two million people fly everyday around the world. Though security has gotten better since September 11, it’s still really hard to effectively screen everyone.
Assuming the plane went down and survivors aren't trapped on a mystical island, where are rescue workers looking?
The search area for the aircraft is now 27,000 miles. According to CNN, that’s double the size of the area being searched just yesterday. While the rescue effort was originally focused on the Gulf of Thailand, it is now concentrated on the Straits of Malacca after Malaysian officials tracked the plane to a location near the island of Palau Perak. CNN has reported that it could have lost important communication and transponder signals and gone hundreds of miles off course. This long after an assumed crash, however, the possibility that there are survivors isn't lookin good.
How is China taking this?
Not very well! China has criticized the way Malaysia has been sharing information, as has Vietnam. The LA Times reports that Chinese Communist Party-controlled paper Global Times had wondered if Malaysia was intentionally hiding information. Malaysian officials, however, have insisted repeatedly that they’ve been entirely transparent. It’s also wroth noting that of the 227 passengers aboard plane, 159 were Chinese nationals and many others were of Chinese descent; it makes sense that China has been so vocal.
So, what’s the most likely theory?
It’s hard to say. Jason Midland, head of the school of aviation at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, suggested to the LA Times that it’s possible the plane hasn’t been found because the pilots passed out due to lack of oxygen. In this scenario, the plane could have kept flying West before it crashed. Midland says this could be accounted for by a decompression due to an explosion or structural issue. Of course that's just a guess. To put it bluntly: we have no idea.
The search continues. There was just a breaking news report that an oil rig may have detected something that could have been the plane. We'll update when we know more.
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