Netflix Docuseries Charts 3 Dubious Paths to MH370’s Disappearance

Spread the love

At 1:19am on March 8, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (and its 227 passengers and 12 crew members) disappeared off the face of the Earth, thus begetting one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history. On the nine-year anniversary of this baffling incident, director Louise Malkinson searches for the truth with MH370: The Plane that Disappeared, a three-part Netflix docuseries (March 8) that proffers three theories about what happened to the still-missing Boeing 777. The possible explanations it dispenses, however, don’t seem likely to bring this case to a close—and, in some instances, reveal the dangerous and depressing conspiratorial thinking that arises when concrete facts are in short supply.

There are things that can be definitively ascertained about MH370, and MH370: The Plane that Disappeared is strongest in its early going, when it focuses on the initial reaction to, and analysis of, the plane’s vanishing. A routine flight on a clear, calm night from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, MH370 took off shortly after midnight. As illustrated by recurring satellite-image maps, graphics and commentary from both relatives of passengers and aviation experts—most notably American author Jeff Wise—there was nothing abnormal about the plane’s journey until it reached the edge of Malaysian airspace, where communication with the craft was handed over to Vietnamese air traffic controllers. MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah said “good night” to his Kuala Lumpur compatriots over the radio and then, poof, all of MH370’s electronics simultaneously turned off, and it was gone.

A rapid-response effort to locate the plane ensued, turning up nothing. No one could detect its final course, determine a nearby airport where it might have landed, or locate debris in the South China Sea that would indicate a fatal crash. Families who gathered at a Malaysian hotel were naturally distraught, and as time went on and scant concrete clues turned up (or, at least, were handed over to the public), they became angry as well, demanding both greater transparency and more decisive and productive action.

Hours turned to days turned to weeks turned to years, and MH370 was simply nowhere to be found, resulting in rampant speculation online and in the press (including by Courtney Love), as well as the emergence of amateur-sleuth collectives such as The Independent Group (which featured Wise and Mike Exner) that pored over available information in a desperate attempt to find this needle in a haystack.

Through a well-constructed combination of archival video, audio and still photos, CGI sequences, dramatic recreations and interviews with a wide array of voices, MH370: The Plane that Disappeared does a comprehensive job painting this picture. It then complicates it with the Malaysian government’s subsequent revelation that—courtesy of data from British company Inmarsat—satellite communications (i.e., pings) with the plane indicated that it had actually veered left shortly after it dropped off radar, passing back over Malaysia and into the Indian Ocean, where it headed either north toward Kazakhstan or south into the middle of the vast waters. In both these scenarios, the implication was clear: MH370’s disappearance was deliberate.

Enter MH370: The Plane that Disappeared’s rampant conjecture! The docuseries’ three installments forward a different, distinctive theory about what might have happened, each one more dubious than the last. In the first, the finger is pointed at Captain Shah, the most obvious suspect since he had control of the plane and, as investigators eventually learned, had charted a course on his home flight-training simulator that was eerily similar to the southward trajectory presented by Inmarsat. Colleagues diminish this, however, and there’s little additional proof that the man wanted to commit such a murder-suicide.

In the second episode, Wise goes out on a limb contending that Russian agents could have snuck into the plane’s electronic nerve center and taken control of the craft in order to manufacture a news story that would distract media attention away from Putin’s invasion of Crimea—a notion bolstered by the fact that, four months after MH370 vanished, the country shot down another Malaysian Airlines 777, MH17. In Wise’s theory, though, the plane would have turned north toward Kazakhstan, which became far less likely when debris (specifically, a flaperon that was identified as belonging to MH370) was discovered on La Réunion island in the southern Indian Ocean. Wise’s reputation took a hit in the press for this, as does his credibility here.

Craziest of all, however, is the theory posited by Le Monde journalist Florence de Changy and Ghyslain Wattrelos, whose wife and two children were aboard MH370. Using dubious data and intel from shadowy sources, they spin a far-fetched yarn in which the United States caused MH370 to go down in the South China Sea because the plane was supposedly carrying stolen surveillance tech headed to China. With almost no evidence to support this wild accusation, it resounds as the sort of America-as-global-boogeyman fantasy peddled by paranoid cinematic thrillers, and the fact that MH370: The Plane that Disappeared treats it seriously winds up bordering on the irresponsible, especially considering that it subsequently has Exner shrug it off as more loopy than legitimate.

Nonetheless, there’s a reason MH370: The Plane that Disappeared wallows in murky and absurd waters. Director Malkinson’s chats with passengers’ grieving relatives convey their unbearable frustration, sorrow and fury over this unresolved tragedy. In doing so, he provides illuminating context for why some chose to believe the unbelievable, be it de Changy’s cover-up tale or Blaine Gibson, an adventurer who had a peerless knack for finding MH370 debris. In the absence of conclusive truth, that vacuum is filled by all manner of make-believe designed to give comforting answers to outstanding questions. There’s pain in not knowing, and it’s that anguish – and the opportunistic desire to exploitatively capitalize off it – which appears to drive much of the guesswork surrounding MH370.

MH370: The Plane that Disappeared is therefore as much about how we process loss, and mysteries, as it is about reasonable suppositions. As Malkinson’s docuseries makes plain, we may never figure out what happened to MH370, and such ignorance will continue to serve as the catalyst for fictional fantasies that keep false hope alive and create opportunities for profit. Even if, in the end, they offer little genuine solace.

Source link