Netflix's Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 doc: Theories, a timeline of plane's vanishing

How does a plane just vanish? Netflix’s new docuseries “MH370: The Plane that Disappeared,” now streaming, investigates the still-unsolved aviation mystery.

Wednesday’s premiere of the three-episode series marks nine years to the day that contact was lost with red-eye Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane carried 239 passengers and crew members. It was set to arrive in Beijing on the morning of March 8, 2014, after departing from Kuala Lumpur.

“MH370” features heartbreaking interviews with the victims’ surviving family members, as well as journalists and civilians captivated by the saga. Despite the theories presented, however, viewers may find they’re left with more questions than answers.

When did MH370 go missing? A timeline of March 8, 2014

12:41 a.m. local (UTC + 8:00) – MH370 departs Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing. The Boeing 777-200ER plane carries a total of 239 people: 227 passengers and 12 crew members.

1:07 a.m. – The plane's data reporting system shuts down. The plane remains on course.

1:21 a.m. – The transponder that transmits location and altitude shuts down. U.S. investigators can't determine if a human shut down the transmissions or if it was an "act of piracy," meaning a takeover.

2:40 a.m. – Subang Air Traffic Control reports that it lost contact with flight MH370 about 2½ hours after takeoff. The last signal on radar from the plane was received as it transferred into Vietnamese airspace above Cau Mau province.

6:30 a.m. – MH370 misses its intended arrival time at Beijing Capital International Airport.

11 a.m. – Family members of MH370 passengers gather at the airport as the authorities update them on the plane's status.

What was MH370’s flight path?

Flight MH370 should have headed northeast to reach its destination. But at a press conference on March 24, 2014, then-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak shared that the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and Inmarsat data concluded, “that MH370 flew along the southern corridor. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.”

One theory: MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah is responsible

Three theories are presented in the docuseries, one in each episode. Journalist Jeff Wise suggests it's possible a Russian passenger sneaked into the electronics bay and took control of the plane. Journalist Florence de Changy wonders if MH370 might’ve been approached by a U.S. surveillance aircraft due to a large amount of electronics on board. Both acknowledge these are far-fetched, and the theories are written off by aviation expert Mike Exner.

Another discounted theory is the possibility that the captain of the flight, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, hijacked the plane. Wise presents a timeline of supposed events in “MH370” that even he doubts. He suggests that after ending contact with air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur, but before establishing contact with Vietnam, Shah thinks of a reason to get his co-pilot out of the cockpit and then locks the door. Shah then disables the electronics that make the plane visible on radar.

Next, Shah turns the plane, Wise says, and begins to depressurize the cabin. A special pilot’s mask allows him to stay in control.

“He turns the plane to the south and he flies straight into the darkness, waiting for his fuel to run out,” says Wise. “After six hours of flight, the engines stop running, he pushes the nose down, and he starts to slide into a dive.”

When was the search suspended?

The search for Flight MH370 and its wreckage concluded in January 2017. A safety investigation report released on July 30, 2018 provided few answers, though it did dispute suspicions of Shah.

“The aircraft was airworthy when dispatched for the flight,” the report stated, adding “there is no evidence to suggest any recent behavioral changes for” Shah, and “the possibility of an intervention by a third party” could not be ruled out.  

“In conclusion,” the report said, “the Team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.”

Contributing: Christine Rushton