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Flight 370 conspiracy theories, still waiting for answers

A woman reads messages for the missing airliner passengers at a mall near Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Two-thirds of those aboard the plane were from China, where speculation on the missing plane runs rampant.


More than a month after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it seems all but certain that the Boeing 777 lies at the bottom of seas 4.5 kilometres deep. The people leading the search have spoken repeatedly about finding its "final resting place" and the detection of audible pings – consistent signals from an airliner's "black box" suggest the wreckage lies roughly 1,670 kilometres northwest of Perth.

That, at least, is the view from Australia, which is leading the search and preparing to send a robotic submarine to try to find the vanished jetliner.

But the lack of much solid information or physical evidence has deepened the mystery of Flight 370, and given rise to all manner of speculation. It has become a wonderland for the imagination.

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Perhaps nowhere have theories run more rampant than in China, a place where many people continue to believe the passengers, two-thirds of them Chinese, are still alive. For some, it's psychologically easier to place faith in conspiracy than to contemplate the disappearance of a loved one. But China is naturally fertile ground for speculation, a problem common to one-party states where there is little trust in authorities.

"Since there is no freedom of information, rumours tend to circulate to a much greater extent than they would in a more open, accountable society," said Frank Dikotter, a Dutch historian who has written extensively on Mao Zedong's legacy in China.

And nowhere do those rumours echo more loudly than on Chinese social media which, unmoored from any need for facts or even logic, has become a hotbed of homespun divination on the missing airplane. Here are some of the more popular theories:

The plane was hijacked

Those responsible made their demands to the Malaysian government. But officials there were too incompetent to come to any resolution, allowing negotiations to stretch on for five hours. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed.

The Malaysian government has known the identity of the hijackers all along, and where the plane ended up. But they have covered it all up in hopes of keeping the world from discovering their gross incompetence.

Problems with this theory

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Hijacker demands tend to be made public, and none have surfaced. Hijackers would presumably want to land the plane to use it as a bartering chip, not fly it for hours to the middle of the ocean. Authorities in several countries have investigated the two pilots and every passenger on board and have come up with no evidence any were hijackers.

It is part of a grand scheme involving Vladimir Putin, Western powers and Ukraine

Some power – presumably the United States or Europe – orchestrated the plane's demise, knowing that China would need help in finding the wreckage.

By providing that help, the West would secure Beijing's gratitude, and be able to compel its support against Russia's interventions in Ukraine. Flight 370, then, is a pawn in the global power struggle to contain Mr. Putin.

Problems with this theory

As one Chinese social media post put it, the author of this scenario "is sick and needs pills for delusional disorder."

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Someone on board had a trove of top-secret U.S. information, so the U.S. took the plane

American authorities learned that a trove of stolen military secrets – allegedly provided by an American defence contractor named Benjamin Bishop to his Chinese girlfriend – was on board the Beijing-bound flight. They sent stealth fighters to intercept and divert the plane, and jammed its communication through electromagnetic interference. The passengers and crew are now being held in a prison at the U.S. naval base on Diego Garcia, a remote island in the Indian Ocean. An alternate version of this theory: The U.S. wanted to steal intellectual property from passengers who worked for a semiconductor company.

Problems with this theory

Mr. Bishop's name came up in unrelated news reports published a few days after Flight 370 went missing but he had been arrested in March, 2013. The more recent reports simply suggested he was likely to plead guilty. Also, why fly documents back to China when an e-mail forward would do?

Malaysia, or maybe the U.S., captured the plane on a fishing expedition for Chinese military secrets

Knowing that most passengers were Chinese, someone decided to make them disappear in hopes China would engage its full military might to find them. In doing so, China would reveal the extent of its secret abilities – and in that revelation, would so shock its Asian neighbours that they would be driven by fear into American arms.

Problems with this theory

It hasn't worked out particularly well: China has made no grand reveals.

It was lasers

A missile would have left debris. But some villain – presumably the U.S. – was testing out a laser system. It vaporized the Boeing 777, leaving behind no trace.

Problems with this theory

The most powerful laser in the U.S. is based in Livermore, Calif. The U.S. Navy's ship-mounted lasers, which do exist, work not by vaporizing targets but by setting them on fire – a process that leaves as much debris as any other attack.

With a report from Yu Mei in Beijing

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More


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