By Emily Goldberg, Layout Editor and Social Media Manager
How is it possible for a plane to disappear so suddenly and inconceivably that one could almost doubt its existence? That is exactly what happened on March 8, 2014, when Malaysia Airlines flight 370 vanished without a trace. The facts surrounding this now infamous flight, commonly referred to as flight MH370, comprise what might just be one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries of the century. On March 8, 2023, exactly nine years later, Netflix released a documentary reigniting the conversations regarding the bewildering findings of this event. The documentary attempts to disentangle the vast amount of evidence pertaining to this case that many others have been unsuccessful at unraveling. More importantly, however, the documentary highlights in a clear and enthralling manner that this information is extremely illogical, and that is precisely what makes this mystery so unsolvable.
The documentary begins by highlighting the very few unquestionable facts known about this peculiar flight. On March 8, 2014, 227 passengers and 12 crew members boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a Boeing 777, in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, on their way to Beijing, China. The flight was a red-eye that departed at 12:41 am and was set to land in Beijing at 6:30 am. This flight was conducted on a regular basis and initially seemed to go as planned. The plane reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet without so much as a trace of any irregularity.
This conventionality lasted a mere thirty-eight minutes before things took an unusual turn. The documentary paints an eerie picture of the scene as a recording is played of the captain gently murmuring his now notorious “Good night Malaysia three-seven-zero” to Malaysian airspace traffickers. As depicted in the documentary, a dot representing MH370 on a globe cruises toward Vietnamese airspace and a sense of foreboding arises as viewers comprehend the plane’s inevitable fate in this ominous moment. The plane literally “vanishes from radar” and the documentary goes silent. The documentary’s outstanding use of visual aids fashions the outset of this incident with a profound sense of bewilderment, and sets the stage for the ongoing mystery that ensues.
The documentary itself is a three-part series, centered around three main theories attempting to piece together what exactly happened to this plane. Each episode describes the important information essential to the formulation of each theory. At the end of each episode, all the various findings come together and each theory is reenacted to concisely explain its unique logistics. At the same time, the documentary spotlights the deficiencies of each theory, affirming that nothing is for certain.
Before any of the theories are explained, the documentary incorporates many news clips that enhance the detailing of the chronicle. One particular clip of the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time, Najib Razak, presents the unique flight path of this plane which is essential to all the theories. The Prime Minister confirms, based on data from Inmarsat, a satellite service provider, that after it lost connection with the outside world, MH370 turned “back over peninsula Malaysia before turning Northwest.” Mark Dickenson, an employee at Inmarsat, notes that with further investigation, Inmarsat determined that after flying back over Malaysia, the plane made another turn which went south towards the Indian Ocean rather than north. With this new information, the Prime Minister declared that the inhabitants of the plane were deceased, and video clips shown by the documentary depict the anguish and gut-wrenching sadness of the family members which effectively personalizes the hardships of these new findings for many. The profound sense of torment that these clips portray leaves the viewers heartbroken for the families affected.
With these new findings about the plane’s continued journey after it vanished from radar, the documentary suggests that this plane’s disappearance was no accident, but rather part of a meticulous and deliberate plan carried out by someone with an ulterior motive.
With all this information in mind, the first theory in the documentary, accredited to Jeff Wise, an aviation journalist, is formulated. His hypothesis is that the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was the culprit and instigated this entire plot as a mass murder-suicide mission. Wise outlines how the captain, after obtaining complete control over the cockpit, would have disabled the plane’s communication equipment, causing it to vanish from radar. After that, the pilot would have turned the plane back towards Malaysia and started depressurizing the cabin. The captain’s complex mask would have allowed him to remain conscious while everyone else would have lost consciousness shortly after this occurrence. The documentary depicts the eerie cabin of the plane as it goes completely silent. The pilot would then have turned the plane South and continued to fly until he exhausted his fuel and the plane would have collided with the ocean. However, many note that the pilot does not appear to have a strong enough motive to commit such a terrible offense.
At the end of the first episode, another news clip reveals that on July 17, 2014, MH17, another Boeing 777, was shot down over the Ukrainian border. With this new information, Jeff Wise formulates his second theory. He hypothesizes that the plane was hijacked by Russia. He explains that in the wake of this second plane crash, “the disappearance of MH370 was a perfectly timed and spectacularly convenient distraction for Russia from the condemnation it was facing from the rest of the world” over its “invasion of Crimea in 2014.” He also discovers that there were “three ethnically Russian men on board the plane.” He theorizes that two of the Russians on board would have distracted the various crew members while the third Russian would have snuck into the “electronics bay.” From there, the Russian hijacker would have “plug[ged] into the computer of the plane’s flight control system,” and made the plane disappear from radar. He then would have made a sharp left turn, depressurized the airplane, and continued to fly until the plane exhausted its fuel. However, many are skeptical about Jeff Wise’s second theory because he claims that after flying back over peninsula Malaysia, “the Russian agent… turned the plane towards the northwest” and preemptively “altered the Inmarsat data” to make it seem like the plane went south in order to confuse investigators later on searching for the missing plane and lead them astray in their hunt for its debris.
The third and final theory is that of Florence De Changy, “an author and investigative journalist.” She claims that the plane was intercepted by the US because of “suspicious cargo” the plane was delivering to China. She theorizes that after the plane took off, “two US AWACS” planes “jammed MH370, making it disappear from the radar.” The AWACS then ordered “MH370 to go and land somewhere nearby, ” but the captain refused. As the plane reached “Chinese airspace…the AWACS planes” departed, but intercepted MH370, and the plane “met its fate” in the South China Sea. Florence De Changy herself notes that this theory “sounds incredibly far-fetched.” Nevertheless, she counters the idea that the plane turned around and crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean by asserting that it was very unlikely the plane could have been lost “in such a highly monitored region of the world” when “two major military exercises [were] going on in the South China Sea involving the US.” She claims the Inmarsat data “was engineered or fabricated, in order to provide a coverup for what truly happened to MH370.”
A vast amount of material is intertwined throughout the narrative of the documentary in order to strengthen each argument. The documentary does an amazing job of delineating an immense amount of information for the audience in order to provide them with a well-rounded view of this intricate historical event.
The cinematography of this documentary is outstanding. The utilization of various filming techniques, background effects, uncanny lighting, as well as other visual aids paints the eerie and sinister atmosphere of this tragic event. The documentary’s insertion of various news clips as well as interviews with specialists, journalists, and family members particularly adds to the intricacy of the documentary’s narrative. The family members’ intimate accounts of their loved ones and last words especially personalize this already horrific tragedy and ensure the details of this story are told with care and intent. This is specifically important as the documentary calls attention to the fact that the families deserve to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones and are still not getting the answers they are justified in demanding from authorities. Altogether, these various aspects form a documentary that is extremely captivating and leaves the viewer wanting to know more.
The documentary very concisely highlights in its concluding fragments that we may never know what happened to this flight. We as a global community might have to come to terms with the fact that this mystery may never be solved no matter how uncomfortable or frightening the thought of those circumstances may be, no matter how much we yearn for the answers and the truth.
So I will ask you: Where do you think MH370 is now? The possibilities are limitless, unfortunately. And at the end of the day, you know just as much about MH370’s disappearance as I do.
That is precisely what makes this aviation mystery the most inscrutable of them all.