Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 of last year, remains the most mysterious incident in aviation history. Even the discovery in July, of a single piece of wreckage more than 16 months after the Boeing 777-200 disappeared did little to shed light on what actually happened to the plane after it suddenly disappeared from radar and cut off ground communications about an hour into a routine, redeye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Dozens of theories, some outlandish and some at least plausible, have circulated in the ensuing 19 months, all attempting to make sense of how a commercial jumbo jet with 239 people on board could simply disappear.
But after an “urgent” Federal Aviation Administration safety warning issued in the first week of October, some experts were inspired to create a new theory, based on that warning — a theory that could present the closest thing to a fact-based explanation of what happened to the mysterious Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
On October 8, the FAA announced its backing for ban on cargo shipments of lithium batteries — basically, the same batteries that power every cell phone — on planes that also carry commercial passengers. Why? Because those batteries have a bad habit of exploding in mid-air.
“We believe the risk is immediate and urgent,” said FAA official Angela Stubblefield at a public meeting on October 8. The batteries, according to extensive research, can explode and catch fire — enough fire to bring down a whole aircraft.
The crash of a United Parcel Service cargo plane in Dubai on September 3, 2010, was caused by an on-board explosion of lithium-ion batteries, investigators found. But woud a plane carrying dozens, even hundreds of unsuspecting passengers risk also carrying a shipment of the dangerous batteries?
Not only is the answer to that question a definite “yes,” but according to a report in the Australian New Daily newspaper, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was carrying a shipment of the potentially explosive batteries weighing 221 kilograms — nearly 500 pounds.
Aviation journalist Clive Irving investigated the details of that battery shipment in report published October 15 in the online magazine the Daily Beast, and found that not only were the batteries — manufactured by Motorola at a plant in Bayan Lepas, Malaysia — on board the plane, but that they were shipped “fresh” after being manufactured, without quality or safety checks.
According to Dr. Victor Ettel, an expert on battery manufacture quoted in Irving’s Daily Beast report, loading the batteries on board a plane right after they come off the assembly line is “asking for trouble,” and that the size and concentration of the battery shipment was enough to risk a “thermal runway,” in which one battery that sparks into flame causes a chain reaction, blowing up the whole shipment.
An Australian aviation expert who called the theory “compelling,” Ron Bishop of Central Queensland University, told the New Daily that an on-board battery fire could account for the strange behavior of Flight MH370 on March 8, 2014.
“Fire would damage some of the safety equipment, or some of the equipment could have been turned off or disabled – that would explain the transponders being turned off,” Bishop told the paper. “If you look at their flight path they did almost a complete 180 back towards Malaysia, and if you have a problem in-flight that is essentially what you would do.”
The Boeing 777-200, however, then took another right turn and ended up far from Malaysia, apparently — according to the Australian-led search team — somewhere in the remote regions of the Indian Ocean.
“You just don’t know,” said Bishop. “That is the most frustrating thing, we just don’t know.”
That final seemingly inexplicable maneuver undertaken by Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may have been due to a lack of oxygen on board the plane, affecting the judgment of the pilots, Bishop speculated.
[Featured Image: ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images]