It’s been nearly five years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — often referred to as MH370 — disappeared without a trace, and its unknown fate has been one of the most talked-about mysteries ever.
The plane in vanished on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and has since become one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries.
There have been two official searches, but neither has ever produced concrete evidence of what happened to the plane. Ahead of the five-year anniversary, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has promised to continue the search for it.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. MH370 Disappeared Less Than 40 Minutes After Takeoff
MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia at 12:41 a.m. local time, heading north on its way to the Beijing Capital International Airport in China.
Roughy 38 minutes after takeoff, the crew communicated with air traffic control when it was over the South China Sea. The last message was “Good night Malaysian Three Seven Zero.”
Though it was off of radar screens minutes later, military radar was able to track it for another hour.
It then deviated from its planned flight path, crossing the Malay Peninsula and Andaman Sea. It left radar range roughly 180 miles northwest of Penang Island in northwestern Malaysia.
The aircraft was carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from 14 different nations. All have been presumed dead.
2. The Search for the Missing Plane Became the Most Costly in Aviation History
The search that began in March 2014 focused initially on the South China and Andaman seas, before analysis of the aircraft’s automated communications with a satellite identified a possible crash site somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search was carried out by Malaysia, China and Australia, but an additional 23 countries also helped. It cost a total of $150 million before it was officially called off in January 2017, roughly three years after the plane’s original disappearance.
Some parts of the ocean that were searched were as deep as 6,000 meters. The original search area was as big as 4.6 million square kilometers, before being narrowed down to 120,000 square kilometers.
A second search was carried out by Ocean Infinity, a United States-based company. The company said it would not charge a fee unless it found the aircraft. After a 90-day sweep of 112,000 square kilometers of the southern Indian Ocean, Ocean Infinity said it found nothing. That search ended in late May 2018.
3. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Said the Search for MH370 Will Continue ‘as Long as There Is Hope’
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, speaking to CNN affiliate 9 News Australia, said the search will continue.
“For as long as there is hope, we will continue to think of ways and means to find out” the plane’s fate, he said this weekend, adding, “We intend to continue.”
“Losing an aircraft is one thing, but losing people is something else,” Mahathir said. “You can’t sleep thinking about what has happened, you keep on asking yourself that question and you get no answer.”
Mahathir made the remarks in an interview with Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was one of 239 on board the plane when it vanished. It was the first time Mahathir met with a relative of one of the victims.
4. Experts Think The Plane Was Steered Off Course Intentionally, but It’s Not Clear Who Did That or Why
In July 2018, the Malaysian government released a 1,500-page report that gave no definitive answers as to the fate of the airliner.
Investigators believe it was likely steered off course deliberately, flown over the Southern Indian Ocean for more than seven hours after it last communicated with air traffic control and then likely crashed somewhere in the ocean.
Available evidence led investigators to believe that the deviation from its flight course was done manually rather than by autopilot, and also said that a transponder was switched off. But the report found no indication of who might have interfered or why.
There have been unverified conspiracy theories swirling around MH370’s disappearance in the years since, including purposeful suicide/murder by the pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
Some believed the plane landed somewhere — a Cambodia jungle has been the top destination — and others think it was either hijacked by a passenger or hijacked remotely and digitally by a foreign power such as North Korea.
But there have been no firm conclusions, and the plane’s black boxes have yet to have been found. There has been confirmed debris from the plane which has washed ashore on African beaches and Indian Ocean islands. But that is it.
5. A Different Malaysia Airlines Flight Was Shot Down by a Missile Later in 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, known as MH17, was a passenger flight that had departed Amsterdam on its way to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over war-torn eastern Ukraine.
All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board were killed, and the incident became the deadliest airliner shootdown in history.
The Buk missile was fired from within rebel-controlled territory in Ukraine by a mobile launcher brought in from Russia, the joint investigation between the Netherlands and Australia concluded last year.
Despite the back-to-back tragedies and public lashings, a recent poll by research firm YouGov found that Malaysian Airlines is still a much-loved brand among the country’s citizens.
Malaysia Airlines’ Index score, which measures overall brand health, remains high amongst Malaysians, and currently stands at +32.3, according to the analysis released in March.