It is a mystery that has yet to be solved.
How did a plane carrying 239 passengers on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, suddenly and inexplicably vanish?
All that has been found so far of the ill-fated flight MH370 is a handful of parts, such as part of a wing, washed up on remote islands across the world.
Data shows the strange path taken by the Malaysia Airlines plane as it suddenly jerked from west to east, away from its destination of China on March 8, 2014 – but no one has been able to explain why it took this strange path, or where it lay now.
Large scale underwater searches focused on an area in the Indian Ocean, close to Australia, where the plane was originally believed to have crash landed into the sea. But after little success, these were called off after two years. The plane, nor any trace of the people aboard it and families are still desperately campaigning for answers about what has happened to their loved ones lost in the sky.
Norman Davies, a historian and author, believes one possibility could be that the plane, a Boeing 777, could have been glided for several hours and landed in Antarctica – the perfect hiding spot, where it could be buried beneath the ice sheet for decades.
Outlandish theories have abounded about what could have happened to the plane – from an alien take over to a hijack that involved Vladimir Putin, to claims that rapper Pitbull predicted it would crash years before.
But the technology on board, designed to stop a repeat of the 9/11 terror attack by allowing it to be controlled on land, could mean the disappearance of MH370 may be due to the first recorded case of a remote skyjacking.
The plane was equipped with Boeing Honeywell Un-interruptible Autopilot, designed to be installed in planes since 9/11, so that they could be remotely controlled to ensure authorities could regain control in the event of an on-board hijacking.
However the existence of this technology makes its abuse and therefore a remote hijacking by a mysterious foe a very real possibility.
“We are now in the realms of cyber warfare, with people believing if there is any future war this will take the form of cyber, ” said author and historian Norman Davies.
“With developments in technology this is in the present realm of possibility.
“The missing Malaysian Airlines plane was fitted with one of these Honeywell devices. In other words it was capable of being taken over remotely. Is this what happened? I am not an expert, but there are conclusions you can draw as to what may have happened.”
Norman said while we do not know what happened to the plane, its fate may represent a new and terrifying move into a form of cyber warfare that could be disastrous in future.
He claims it may have been remotely controlled because it had something considered valuable on board that whoever seized control did not want to get to China. Several other theories back up this possibility, pointing to the widely held belief that the official cargo manifest detailing what was actually on the Boeing 777 was wrong.
He added: “It seems that the cargo manifest was not accurate. There are reports that the cargo detailed in the manifest didn’t add up. I don’t know what it might have been carrying but it may have been carrying something somebody didn’t want to get to China.”
MH370 disappeared more than three years ago. Since then only about 30 pieces of plane debris have been found to date.
It took off from Kuala Lumpur airport bound for Beijing, but lost contact with air traffic control 40 minutes after take-off. The plane was seen for the last time at 2.14am on military radar in the Strait of Malacca. Then it simply disappeared.
Debris was first found more than a year later at Reunion Island, 3000 miles away from the search area, and in October this year two wing flaps were discovered in Mauritius.
In January this year the official search by Australia, Malaysia, and China of a 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq mile) target area was suspended, and to date none of the bodies of the more than 200 victims on board have been found.
Norman believes there are three key facts that point to the possibility of the first recorded case of remote skyjacking – not once but twice. Mysteriously very little information has also been released about who exactly was on board.
He says: “The plane moved in three distinct phases. Everybody agreed that the plane was diverted deliberately by someone with an expert knowledge who not only turned off the transponder but also reset the on-board computer. It fact it then turned round and headed in the opposite direction.
“As soon as it was diverted it flew back over Malaysia , obviously under very close control from someone.
“Then in the second phase, as it flew over the Andaman Sea, whoever had been controlling it appeared to lose control and the plane started flying round in circles.
“And in the third phase the instruments suddenly returned and the signals showed the plane was functioning and cruising for around five hours. But they don’t know in which direction.
“My suggestion is that it was remotely hijacked – twice. If it had been hijacked just once, for example by the Americans which is just a guess, to stop it getting to Beijing, it would have been flown to an American base.
“But that didn’t happen. The logical conclusion is that a second hijacker gained access to the plane, in order to confound the aims of their adversaries.
“We do know the plane crashed, as pieces of the aircraft have been found. But the question is what was going on in those two to three hours?”
One theory, Norman suggests is that the plane had far greater capacity to travel than expected.
Had the hijacking been pre-planned more fuel than was recorded could have been loaded in Kuala Lumpur. However had pilots been caught in mid-air they could have used the aircraft’s ability to glide – switching between cruising and gliding to extend flight time from seven hours to nine hours. Along with some favourable side winds, this could have given the plane enough distance, possibly, to reach Antarctica. Here it would have sunk, to be surrounded and pushed down by the ice sheet where it could remain hidden for years if not decades.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was in charge of the plane when it took off, but his family have urged that he not be made a scapegoat for what happened to the airliner. There were several claims of a ‘rogue pilot’ theory, but the authorities have also found no Capt Zaharie or his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid
Norman examines the facts in his book Beneath Another Sky, which explores global history through the perspective of a long round the world journey Norman himself made. Norman himself has a particular interest in aviation, being named after an uncle who died in an air crash in World War One. He was also on the same plane days earlier before a crash in Smolensk in Russia in April 2010, which saw a Polish plane carrying the Polish President and a hundred of the country’s dignitaries tried to land in thick fog, missed the runway, and hit the ground at speed, killing all on board.
Norman said what is also striking about the disappearance of MH370 is that while images of the surface to air missile that apparently hit another Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17 , just months later were rapidly produced by the authorities, this drew a blank when it came to MH370.
MH17 was shot out of the sky just a few months after the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane, in July 2014 and crashed in Ukraine, close to the Russian border. Images of what happened were captured by satellites and rapidly produced by the authorities and a reconstruction was made.
All 298 people aboard the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur – 283 passengers and 15 crew died. The wreckage was found near the town of Shakhtyorsk in the Donetsk region.
Norman added: “If you compare the Malaysian airlines plane that was brought down in Ukraine the official reaction to that was ultimately different to the one that disappeared.”
Norman also points to claims that the cargo manifest, detailing what was aboard MH370, was not correct – indicating some kind of sensitive material, that may not have been wanted to end up in Chinese hands, may have been on board.
He added: “I can only speculate. I don’t know what it was carrying, but it must have been something someone didn’t want to get to China.
“I could of course be completely wrong.”
Norman stresses that his suggestions are only theories, speculations based on the facts of MH370 and scenarios of what could have happened that day.
While he dismisses the ‘wild theories’ that the plane was hijacked by aliens, Norman suggests as the plane had not been found – and because of its capabilities to glide over large distances – the reason it may not have been found is it could have ended up beneath sheets of Antarctic ice, a mystery buried for decades.
But he says, much like other mysteries of times past, it is highly likely the true fate of MH370 will be discovered in future.
“I think it’s very likely that sooner or later it will be found.”
Norman said the truth of what happened to MH370 could be solved in a similar way to the fate of Stardust, a British plane that disappeared in a snowstorm. It took more than 50 years for parts of the plane and remains of the bodies of those on board to be found perfectly preserved in an Argentinian glacier.
The latest report into MH370 by the Australian Safety Bureau described the fact that it has still not been found as a “great tragedy.” It found that the search, which covered a huge area of thousands of miles, had ruled out a huge area where the plane may have crashed.
A recent analysis of satellite communications from missing MH370 is consistent with it being in a “high and increasing rate of descent” when it vanished. And The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which led the search for the Malaysia Airlines jet , said additional analysis of wing flap debris found the aircraft was not configured for a landing.