Details concerning the sudden, Saturday disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 continue to trickle in. Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority, said the missing Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers presents an "unprecedented mystery."
Here's what we do know: The flight disappeared on Friday night/Saturday morning en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane was at cruising altitude (35,000 feet) and weather was more or less clear. Air traffic controllers in Vietnam say contact with the crew disappeared about 120 nautical miles east of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, and radar signals suggest the plane may have turned around before losing contact.
And yet, nearly three whole days later, there are still no signs of the jet or its passengers. And an oil slick spotted in the South China sea originally thought to be a clue turned out to be a false lead:
Two Italian passengers said to be aboard the flight turned out to be safe on the ground, when they told authorities that their passports had, in fact, been stolen earlier. Someone aboard the flight was said to be using them, one of whom resembled a famous soccer player:
Adding another wrinkle to the case, the Wall Street Journal reports that airliners "such as the Malaysian jet also carry emergency beacons to transmit the aircraft's location in the event of a mishap so that rescue teams can reach the site."
These beacons, called emergency locator devices, are activated by impact on land or water, along with other emergency communications equipment. Malaysia's aviation regulator said no signals were received from flight MH370's beacon.
"There are many theories that have been said in the media," Rahman said during a press conference. "Many experts around the world have contributed their expertise and knowledge about what could happen, what happened....We are puzzled as well."
Naturally, conspiracy theories are already flying left and right on social media. One theory suggests the plane's sudden disappearance is a "false flag" operation intentionally planted by CNN. Another claims that some relatives of the passengers onboard have even reported hearing their phones ring--but no one is answering.
Other tin foilers have gone so far as to suggest that the plane simply vanished. "If we never find the debris," writes one theorist, "it means some entirely new, mysterious and powerful force is at work on our planet which can pluck airplanes out of the sky without leaving behind even a shred of evidence."
Another, just as bizarre conspiracy theory suggests terrorists hijacked the plane, and have parked the plane intact in an abandoned hanger to use as "a weapon of mass destruction" in the future:
Over at Reddit, speculation is surprisingly measured. Says one user who claims to be a pilot:
At 35,000 feet they'd be able to travel another ~100-120 miles (far enough to reach the coast of Vietnam). Depending on the speed of the aircraft, it would take at least 15-30 minutes to reach the earth (or sea), giving them ample time to make a distress call. Throw in this weird stuff with the fake passports, and now reports that the plane apparently had attempted to turn back, and this makes me think something pretty sudden and catastrophic must have happened, and mechanical and/or pilot error seems unlikely in this case.
On Monday, China's state-run media blasted the Malaysian government's rescue efforts, arguing that initial reaction from the country "was not swift enough." Currently, at least 45 ships and 22 aircraft from nine countries, including the U.S., China, and more, are partaking in a joint multi-national rescue effort. "If [the disappearance] is due to a deadly mechanical breakdown or pilot error, then Malaysia Airlines should take the blame," wrote China's Global Times in a scathing editorial. "If this is a terrorist attack, then the security check at the Kuala Lumpur airport and on the flight is questionable."
[Image: The U.S. Navy's Flickr]