Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance in March 2014 instantly become a global news phenomenon, as multiple countries joined the search for the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew.
With the mystery still swirling five years on, The Atlantic’s July cover story brings together all of the known evidence about how MH370 vanished into the Indian Ocean to deliver the clearest picture to date of what happened: that in all likelihood the plane was intentionally crashed by the pilot. The cover story, by foremost aviation writer and former pilot William Langewiesche, seeks to reconstruct the chilling fate of the passengers and crew during the six hours that the plane remained aloft after dropping from radar and ultimately shattering into pieces in the Indian Ocean.
The cover story, “Good Night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero.,” is out today and leads The Atlantic’s July magazine issue, which will be on newsstands next week.
“In truth, a lot can now be known with certainty about the fate of MH 370,” Langewiesche writes. “First, the disappearance was an intentional act. It is inconceivable that the known flight path, accompanied by radio and electronic silence, was caused by any combination of system failure and human error.” Langewiesche reports that most of what we need to know about the flight’s disappearance is currently knowable, thanks in part to electronic evidence; the black boxes, if eventually found, are unlikely to hold significant new information. Reporting from Malaysia, he meticulously pieces together all the existing evidence—including insights from people close to the investigation, a family member of a victim, and people who knew the plane’s captain—to arrive at the most definitive telling yet of the flight’s disappearance. His reporting exposes the deep inadequacies of the Malaysian investigation, which led the initial search thousands of miles astray and downplayed the likelihood that either pilot might be at fault.
For a variety of technical and other reasons, hijacking theories are highly improbable. Langeqiesche notes that the lead pilot was struggling with various issues—despite a portrait to the contrary painted by the official report. On a home simulator, he had traced a flight pattern roughly matching the one taken by MH370.
Langewiesche also tracked down Blaine Gibson, an American who has taken it upon himself to recover pieces of MH370 wreckage. Gibson has collected more plane fragments than any other person or entity—and on beaches hundreds of miles apart. “What Gibson’s discovery of so many pieces of debris has confirmed is that the signals analysis was correct,” Langewiesche writes. “The airplane flew for six hours until the flight came suddenly to an end. There was no effort by someone at the controls to bring the plane down gently. It shattered.” Amid the bizarre conspiracy theories that continue to surround the disappearance of MH370, Gibson has become a target of threats and abuse. Yet his work to recover pieces of MH370 continues.
The idea that a sophisticated machine, with its modern instruments and redundant communications, could simply vanish seems beyond the realm of possibility—hence the grim fascination with the tragedy, five years later. The official investigations have petered out. For Langewiesche, any remaining answers probably won’t be found in the ocean but on land, in Malaysia, where officials likely know more than they’ve let on about the person at the controls. “The answers may well lie close at hand, “Langewiesche writes, “but they are more difficult to retrieve than any black box.”
Read the cover, “Good Night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero.,” now at The Atlantic.