After yesterday’s Australian discovery of a possible “credible lead” as to missing Malaysia flight MH370’s whereabouts, the media (both social and traditional) finally have a few facts to report. After almost two weeks with no clues, there is a tangible mission, along with treacherous weather conditions and seas to go with it. (Nothing has been found today, yet).

It’s the first real breakthrough in the saga that has gripped the world and garnered hours of media coverage — mostly filled with wild speculation. Guardian commentator Michael Woff has called it the “the new anti-journalism” — the absence of information entities everyone to wild theorising and the media to report these speculations. Here are some of the theories that have emerged so far …

Day 1: March  8 

Malaysia flight 370 disappears. The last signal received from the tracking data places the plane somewhere in the corridor of the northern arc (anywhere from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan) to the southern arc (anywhere from Indonesia to the Southern Indian Ocean). There are early reports that the Vietnamese air force has documented large oil slicks consistent with the crash scene at sea.

The release of Interpol data states that two of the passengers were travelling with stolen passports. The passengers were later confirmed to be Iranian nationals. This lays fertile ground for terrorist hijack theories.

Posts circulating on Reddit and Twitter quickly make conspiratorial links with North Korea. They cite North Korea’s supposed experience with plane hijacking and claim the plane had enough fuel to reach Pyongyang.

Day 2: March 9

Some of the more unusual theories regarding the flight’s disappearance start to emerge. There is speculation that the plane was cloaked with “invisibility technology” or “electronic weaponry”, which allowed it to fly undetected by military and civilian satellite and radar. Much is made of the fact that 20 passengers on board the flight were employees of Freescale Semiconductor, a firm that creates technology for “used in everything from mobile phones to NASA operations”. The obligatory alien and UFO speculation commences as well.

Day 4: March 11

The Chinese Martyrs’ Brigade claims responsibility for commandeering the missing flight — a previously unheard-of group dedicated to publicising grievances of China’s Uigher minority group. On the back of this claim came the theory that the plane landed in the Taklaman Desert, north-west of China.  

The group is said to have fabricated responsibility for MH370’s disappearance to escalate ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese after knife attacks in China that left 29 people dead in early March.

Day 5: March 12

A prominent Iranian lawmaker, Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, blames the United States for the missing flight because he says Washington is determined to engage in “psychological warfare” and “sabotage” the relationship between Iran and south-east Asia.

Day 8: March 15 

Following Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement the previous day that  MH370 had changed direction and altitude after communications devices were deliberately switched off, rumours of terrorist plots and hijacking speculation multiply online.

There are reported investigations into claims that Malaysian jihadists had been planning an attack on a plane. A “supergrass” told police four to five men had planned to use a bomb hidden in a shoe to gain access to the cockpit in a 9/11-style attack. Rupert Murdoch also adds fuel to the fire of claims of terrorist and extremist plots linked with Pakistan …

murdoch plane tweet

Day 9: March 16 

The map search website Tomnod, a crowdsourcing platform powered by the satellite operator DigitalGlobe, releases pictures of debris allegedly floating on the surface of the Malacca Strait.

Some 3 million internet users have accessed the website to scan 24,000 square kilometres of recent satellite footage. Tomnod asks users tag anything they believe to be MH370. The next day, Courtney Love posts a photo on Twitter, claiming to have solved the mystery …

Day 10: March 18 

By now there are 26 countries participating in the search. Reports emerge of plane sightings in the Maldives. Residents report seeing a “low-flying jumbo jet” on the day the flight vanished off radar detection. The Haveeru news website says witnesses saw a plane flying south-west at 6.15am on March 8.

Malayasian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim tells The South China Morning Post he had seen MH370’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, at political party meetings. This is developed into a theory linking the Malaysian opposition with the mystery — as it turns out, Shah is related to Ibrahim’s son-in-law.

Day 12: March 20

Images from March 16 provided by DigitalGlobe locate two large objects in the Indian Ocean, 2500 kilometers south-west of Perth, which could be debris from the potential crash site.

Day 13: March 21

The world waits for updates of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority-headed search. Wild theorising online, or at least the media’s coverage of it, might hold off until the only real empirical clues to the mystery so far are either confirmed or denied. Or maybe not …

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW