Crews from ten nations have been combing both sides of the Malaysian peninsula, but after four days there is still no sign of the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. In the absence of any real clues, everyone from aviation experts to online conspiracy theorists has been filling the void with their own explanations. It's getting harder to sort out the legitimate proposals from the tabloid fodder (except for the death ray that can take down a plane), so here's a look at the leading theories on the fate of Flight 370, grouped according to plausibility.
THE MOST POPULAR THEORIES
We're looking in the wrong place. This is the "consensus among aviation experts," according to The Wall Street Journal. Whether the plane broke up in midair or fell into the ocean mostly in one piece, there should be some form of debris. Contradictory accounts from Malaysian officials on Tuesday bolstered this idea. Following local reports that the plane turned back and was spotted by the Strait of Malacca on the eastern side of the country, Malaysian air force chief General Rodzali issued a written denial, saying the air force is still "examining and analyzing all possibilities as regards to the airliner's flight path subsequent to its disappearance."
Mechanical failure. If there was a catastrophic mechanical failure, the plane might have landed on the water, still intact, and fallen to the bottom of the ocean, according to CNN. However, Boeing 777s can glide for more than 100 miles with the engines out, which would have given the pilots time to send an SOS. The missing plane had suffered a clipped wing tip in the past, but it was repaired, and in general Boeing 777s have an excellent safety record.
The jet disintegrated in mid-air. A source involved in the investigation told Reuters, "The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet."
Terrorists took control of the plane, or blew it up. This theory lost steam after it was revealed that the passengers with stolen passports were Iranians seeking asylum, but if the pilots did change course without telling anyone, it may suggest that the jet was hijacked.
Pilot error is to blame. On Tuesday, Jonty Roos told an Australian TV show that Fariq bin Ab Hamid, the flight's 27-year-old first officer, allowed her and a friend to sit in the cockpit during takeoff and landing in 2011. "Throughout the whole flight they were talking to us, they were actually smoking through the flight which I don’t think they’re allowed to be doing," she said. "They were taking photos with us in the cockpit while they were flying. I was just completely shocked." The airline said it's taking the allegation "very seriously," though inappropriate behavior three years ago doesn't necessarily explain anything.
LESS PLAUSIBLE POSSIBILITIES
Someone wanted to kill the passengers. Police say they're looking into whether someone on the plane had personal problems that could explain the disappearance. "Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities," said Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.
The pilots deliberately crashed the plane. Investigators say they're also looking into whether any passengers or crew members had psychological problems, and some have suggested that the pilots could have committed suicide by flying straight into the ocean.
The plane actually landed safely. "That airplane could have landed somewhere," Hans Weber, a San Diego-based aviation consultant, told the Washington Post. The jet had enough fuel to fly at least 1,800 miles and someone could have turned off its transponder. However, Weber admits this is far-fetched because word would have gotten out by now.
It was accidentally shot down by another country's military. It wouldn't be the first time. In July 1988, a U.S. Navy missile cruiser accidentally shot down an Iranian Air flight, killing everyone on board. In 1983, a Russian fighter jet took out a Korean Air Lines flight.
Chinese separatists took down the plane. The Christian Science Monitor reports that some people on Chinese social media sites pointed to separatists from the Xinjiang region, who the government blamed for the recent knife attack. However, the paper notes that such groups have never shown the "operational capacity" required to blow up a plane.
North Korea did it. Redditor Nickryane suggested that the plane might have been hijacked and landed in Pyongyang, because North Korea.
TOTALLY UNHINGED EXPLANATIONS
It's part of a push for biometric passports. Amid all the speculation about the passengers with stolen passports, the Secure Identity and Biometrics Association claimed that the issue could have been avoided if biometric passports were more widely used, and Interpol called for better security measures at borders. This prompted Before It's News to wonder if the disappearance could be "a false flag attack in order to push for a global biometrics system."
The plane was destroyed by a powerful mystery weapon. "If we never find the debris, 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," writes NaturalNews.com blogger Mike Adams. "If there does exist a weapon with such capabilities, whoever controls it already has the ability to dominate all of Earth's nations with a fearsome military weapon of unimaginable power."
Alien abduction. It does explain everything, if you go for that sort of thing.
Promotional stunt for a Lost reboot. Not even Jimmy Kimmel could pull off a prank this elaborate, or this cruel.