The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 – with 239 people on board – is unusual in that two days after the plane lost communication, there is no reliable evidence of debris.
No radio calls were received from the flight crew indicating that the plane had any sort of problem before it disappeared somewhere over the Gulf of Thailand 2:40am local time (5:40am AEDT) on Saturday.
The plane might have suffered catastrophic and immediate destruction, or at least lost all of its electronics and communications. If that was the case, it might have descended rapidly to the sea surface in the general area of its last reported flight location.
But if some systems remained operating so as to allow the pilots to glide down, the area where the plane may have crashed would be much wider.
Assuming a typical gliding angle of say 10:1 from a height of 10 kilometres above sea level, descending in an unknown direction, the possible area of search would be more than 30,000 square kilometres – an area roughly the size of Belgium. That is a vast area to search thoroughly, and is possibly the reason no debris has yet been found.
There are various possible causes:
1. Weather and environment – very unlikely, as the weather seemed benign. Space junk or asteroid strike are also very remote possibilities.
2. Pilot error – very unlikely in cruise unless some serious malfunctions occurred (although that was what happened to Air France flight AF447)
3. Technical failures – probably more likely than 1 or 2.
4. Illegal interference – probably more likely than 1 or 2.
In the case of the 2009 loss of Air France 447 into the Altantic ocean, pilots received erroneous airspeed data due to icing of instrumentation while the plane, an Airbus A330-200, was flying straight and level.
The pilot(s) responded poorly, and their plane stalled and fell to the sea from nearly 38,000 feet. Poor training was held to be a contributing factor, and the captain was apparently not in the cockpit at the time.
Severe malfunctions such as a double engine failure or inflight structural failure would likely still leave the pilots time to issue a mayday call. With Malaysia Airline flight MH370, it appears that the individual plane, a Boeing B777-200ER, did suffer wing tip damage in a ground collision in 2012, although failure of this repair would appear to be an unlikely cause of communications failure as well.
Even with both engine generators unserviceable, the B777 has back-up emergency power systems, certainly capable of allowing pilots to transmit a radio call.
So we are left with the conclusion that all radio systems were rendered unserviceable. In addition, the B777 is equipped with ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) that would have allowed the crew to send a “text” message back to base.