The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on March 8 of 2014 remains perhaps the most baffling mystery in the history of aviation. But even as the official search for wreckage from the missing Boeing 777-200 drags on in the Indian Ocean with no results — except for one chunk of the plane's wing that washed up on a Reunion Island beach about 2,000 miles west of where the searchers have targeted — unofficial Flight MH370 researchers wonder if another plane that strayed off course only last month might somehow be connected to the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane.
On January 7, an Airbus A330 airliner operated by the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways took off on what was supposed to be a 6-and-a-half- hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
But just minutes after takeoff, Etihad EY440 suddenly turned south, rather than flying the normal northwesterly route that would take the flight across Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, across the northern tip of the Arabian Sea and into the UAE.
Instead, the plane flew south directly toward the internationally recognized aviation navigational waypoint known as IGARI, between Vietnam and Malaysia — the exact point where, 22 months earlier almost to the day, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 took its own shocking turn off course, cutting off all ground communication.
The Etihad Airbus A300 then, according to aviation expert and Flight MH370 researcher Jeff Wise, "flew along the Thai/Malaysia border to the Malacca Straits, where it flew in circles for an hour before finally heading off in the direction of Abu Dhabi."
The following video shows the unusual, errant flight path of Etihad EY440
"This is all very strange, but what makes it interesting to the MH370 crowd is the fact that a portion of its bizarre route was an exact match with that taken by the Malaysian 777 when it initially took a runner," Wise wrote on his blog.
"Had EY440 been taking part in some kind of experiment to recreate MH370's route, perhaps to get a better understanding of the Inmarsat data or the radar data?"
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Wise wasn't the only MH370 researcher who noticed the strange flight path of Etihad Flight EY440, despite that fact that the incident appears to have received no coverage in the media.
"MH370 could be a case of 'nefarious interference' with uploading of flight plans, which consequently went massively wrong," wrote one Reddit poster. "If MH370 and the latter two (MH132 and EY440) were due to nefarious interference, I am pretty sure that fact, if established by authorities, would be actively obscured to avoid total loss of confidence by the flying public. Sure, it is all speculation and bordering on "conspiracy theory", but who is to say it is impossible?"
Etihad Airways finally offered its own explanation for the strange route taken by Flight EY440, a spokesperson telling Wise that the original flight plan was altered by the plane's computer ndue to high winds in the area, and then altered again while the plane was in the air, resulting in the confusion.
Wise said that he ultimately came to believe that the Etihad incident most likely... does not have anything to do with (Malaysia Airlines Flight) MH370, but it's very interesting in its own right."
[Featured Photo By Vincent Thian/Associated Press]