Is there a pattern emerging between Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370, American aviator Amelia Earhart and the Bermuda Triangle? For one, all involve disappearances over an ocean. For the other, there has been no trace at all of those that disappeared.
Flight MH 370 went missing early morning on March 8. It left Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. and was to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. Contact with the plane and its radar signal was lost at at 1.40 a.m. when it was flying over the Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control area in Vietnam.
It was initially thought that the plane had crashed into the sea off Vietnam and hopes of locating it rose after two oil slicks were reported from the area. It turned out to be a false alarm.
Then, there were reports that the plane could have actually turned back and ditched in the Strait of Malacca, almost diametrically opposite to its scheduled flight path. The area was subsequently expanded west into the Andaman Sea and possibly to the Indian coast.
Dozens of ships and planes from around 10 countries, including India, are scouring the waters around Flight MH 370's last known location, but no credible clues have been found as to its whereabouts.
On Saturday, three events deepened the mystery: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the communications system of the jet was deliberately disabled just before it reached the east coast of peninsular Malaysia; investigators hinted that the jet had been hijacked; and the Inmarsat British telecommunications company said it had picked up signals from the plane five hours after it went off the radar.
"Based on new satellite communication, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communications, addressing and reporting system were disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of peninsular Malaysia," Razak said at a press conference.
"Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft's transponder was switched off."
From this point onwards, the Malaysia air force radar data showed an aircraft, which was believed but not confirmed to be the missing jet, did indeed turn back, and flew in a westerly direction, back over peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest, Razak said.
"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," he added.
How could a plane as large as a Boeing B-777ER with 239 passengers and crew on board just vanish off the face of the earth, particularly in an area that is counted as one of the busiest sea lanes of the world; and particularly when the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 operated by an equally large aircraft -- an Airbus A-330-230 -- was located by the Brzailian Navy five days after it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, while on a flight from Rio de Janerio to Paris, killing all 227 on board?
There was also a report that Chinese researchers have detected a "seafloor event" near the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, one of the areas where the plane is suspected to have gone down.
The event occurred about 90 minutes after the plane's last definitive sighting on civilian radar, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported, citing a research group on seismology and physics of the earth's interior under the University of Science and Technology of China.
The area, 116 km northeast from where the last contact with the plane was recorded, used to be a non-seismic region, the group said.
"The seafloor event could have been caused by the plane possibly plunging into the sea," the research group said, adding the event's location was identified through records of two seismographs located in Malaysia.
If the data is proved to be linked to the missing flight, "the strength of the earthquake wave indicates the plunge was catastrophic", the research group said.
Will Flight MH 370 go the way of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo for which she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, who disappeared on July 2, 1937, while attempting to be the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo? There has been no trace of Earhart or her twin-turboprop Lockheed Electra that is suspected to have gone down in the central Pacific near Howland Island, almost half-way between Hawaii and Australia.
Is it just a coincidence that both disappearances occurred within the first 10 days of the month, as did the first in the Bermuda Triangle, formed by Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico at its three ends.
On December 5, 1945, five US Navy Avenger torpedo bombers disappeared in the area, killing the 14 crewmen on board. A rescue flight launched with a Mariner flying boat also crashed, killing the 13 crew on board, with investigators saying the pilots could have become disoriented after running out of fuel.
Since then, there have been a rash of disappearances in the area and pop culture (Marilyn Cochran-Smith, "Bermuda Triangle: Dichotomy, Mythology and Amnesia"; Journal of Teacher Education-2003) has even ascribed this to paranormal activity.
Steven Spielberg took this forward in his 1977 classic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that begins with the discovery of the Avenger bombers in the Sonoran Desert (southwestern US and northwest Mexico) sans their crew. In the climax, a huge spaceship lands and out come the crew and sundry others kidnapped by the aliens over time.
So, is anyone out there? The jury is still out on that one!
(Vishnu Makhijani is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)