March 8, 2023

The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

March 8, 2014. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying hundreds of passengers and crew, loses contact with air traffic control, veers off course and mysteriously disappears, prompting the most expensive search in aviation history.


Cold Open - The Debris Discovery

It’s July 29th, 2015 on Reunion Island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Johnny Begue, a 46-year-old municipal worker, walks the sandy beach alongside other members of his cleanup crew. It’s monotonous work keeping the beaches clean, but they do their best to have fun with it. Soon enough, Johnny’s crew stops to take a break.

As they laugh and joke, Johnny keeps walking. He picks up a smooth round rock from the sand… and tosses it out into the ocean.

As Johnny watches the rock skip across the water, he’s brought out of his reverie by the sounds of his crewmen shouting for his attention. He turns around and sees them holding a strange, six-foot-long object like a jagged rectangle.

Johnny runs back to get a closer look.

His crewmen grunt and groan as they lift the unusual object off the ground so they can examine it further. As Johnny slowly walks around the object, it dawns on him what he’s looking at. It’s part of an airplane. And immediately, Johnny’s mind begins to race with questions. How did it end up here? What in the world happened to the rest of the plane? But soon, Johnny will learn the truth; that he’s just discovered the first piece of physical evidence in one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history. 

Not long after Johnny and his crew find the strange object, authorities identify its source. They reveal that the piece of wreckage belongs to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a commercial jet that suddenly and inexplicably vanished over one year prior. The evidence Johnny discovered seems to indicate that the missing plane crashed, killing all 239 people on board. But exactly when, where, and why the plane went down remains as much of an enigma as the reasons why the plane went missing in the first place. It's an enduring mystery; one that the media, the authorities, and the family members of the lost passengers have been trying to piece together ever since the plane disappeared on this day, March 8th, 2014.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is March 8th, 2014: The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Act One: The Disappearance

It’s the afternoon of March 7th, 2014 at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

In the library, Grace Nathan is hard at work studying for an upcoming law exam when her cell phone begins to ring. Immediately, she knows who’s calling: her mother.

The two talk practically every day and for Grace, it’s always a highlight. It’s not easy living so far away from her family, and she’s eager to return home to Malaysia as soon as she finishes law school.

So she picks up the phone and it is indeed her mother. Her mother asks Grace how school is going. Grace says fine, but she misses home. Her mother encourages her to keep working hard, it will all be worth it in the end.

But she also says she’s sorry she can’t chat for very long today. She’s on her way to the Kuala Lumpur airport to catch a flight to see Grace’s father in Beijing.

But before she hangs up, she tells her daughter Grace that she loves her. This catches Grace by surprise. She’s never doubted how her mother feels about her, but her family is not openly affectionate. Hearing the words “I love you” throws her off for just a second. But Grace recovers and tells her mother that she loves her too. She asks her mom to call her when she’s safely landed in China. 

Later that evening, as Grace walks home from the library, her phone rings again. She’s exhausted from long hours of studying, but she picks up expecting to hear from her mother. But it's another voice on the other end of the line: her father. 

In a panic, he tells Grace the devastating news. Her mother's flight, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, took off from Kuala Lumpur a little before 1 AM on March 8th. But the plane never reached its destination.

Grace tries to make sense of what her father is saying, her mind swirling. She asks her father for more information, but he doesn’t know anything more than what he’s already shared. He begs Grace to get on the next flight to Kuala Lumpur to join him and her sisters as they wait for answers.

Without even packing a bag, Grace rushes to the airport. She spends the next 14 hours in the air, and each one feels like torture as her mind races over the question of what happened to her mother’s plane. When Grace lands and disembarks in Kuala Lumpur, she’s greeted by officials from Malaysia Airlines. She asks them if they’ve located her mother’s plane. They only shake their heads grimly saying ‘no’. Still, Grace doesn’t despair. Remembering the old adage that “no news is good news.” If there’s no word of the plane’s whereabouts, then there’s still hope that her mother is alive.

When Grace finally reunites with her father and sister, she tries to uplift them with her optimism. The family attempts to stay strong as they wait for news that the plane has been found. But as days pass, there is still no sign of Flight 370. Instead, new details emerge that provoke more questions than answers.

Officials explain that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off roughly on time and without any problems. After about 30 minutes, the plane entered Vietnamese airspace and one of the pilots said goodnight to air traffic controllers in Malaysia. Those were the last words heard from the pilots. Soon after, the plane’s transponder - the device that sends and receives information from the ground - suddenly turned off.

Grace, along with the rest of the world, is desperate to find out what happened after the plane dropped off the radar. But she is frustrated with the notoriously autocratic Malaysian government. Officials there are reluctant to share details that might reflect poorly on the government-controlled Malaysian Airlines, making reliable information scarce.

At first, officials claim the plane disappeared somewhere over the South China Sea, where they devote the bulk of their search and rescue efforts. But soon, independent investigators use satellite data to establish that Flight 370 diverted from its original scheduled path. Eventually, Malaysian officials are forced to admit that when the plane went missing, it was actually flying over the Indian Ocean and the entire previous search attempt has been in vain.

Grace is irritated by the government’s lack of transparency and incompetence, spending a week searching in the wrong part of the globe. She is no closer to getting any answers or learning the truth about what really happened to her mother. As the Malaysian government gets back to work searching the Indian Ocean, Grace and most of the other family members begin to fear the worst: that they will never see their loved ones again.

Act Two: Search On

It’s March 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, one year after Flight 370 disappeared.

At an event for families of the missing passengers, Grace Nathan prepares to speak. She is here today to mourn, but also to demand action from the Malaysian government.

In the year since her mother’s disappearance, investigators and journalists from all over the world have stepped forward, determined to find the plane and uncover what happened. As a result of their efforts, a clearer picture of Flight 370’s final hours has begun to emerge. Using satellite data, an international team of investigators determined that after the transponder turned off, the flight veered off course and headed south until running out of fuel and coming down somewhere in the vast, south Indian Ocean. But after using state-of-the-art technology to search tens of thousands of square miles underwater, the international search teams still found nothing.

Then in January 2015, the Malaysian government finally declared Flight 370 an accident that took the lives of all 239 people on board. But while the fate of passengers is in little doubt, their families are still left with questions and little faith in the Malaysian government.

Over time, information will be brought to light which indicates that the Malaysian government tried to cover up breaches of protocol that happened while Flight 370 was in the air and during the initial search.

So Grace, and the other family members, want answers that will only come when the missing plane is finally found. So as she steps up to the podium today, Grace is determined to push the powers that be to keep looking.

As Grace gets ready to deliver her remarks, she feels a sudden knot in her throat. She looks out over the crowd of hundreds of supporters. Some wear t-shirts just like the one Grace has on - emblazoned with an image of a Boeing 777 airplane and the words “search on.” Grace pauses as she thinks of what her mother might say if she were here. Then Grace smiles. She knows exactly what her mother would say, undoubtedly offering words of encouragement, just like always.

And so with new confidence, Grace begins to speak. She tells the crowd about her mother. How she always showed up for her with a kind word or sage advice when she needed it. And as she talks about her love for her mother and the pain of her disappearance, tears begin to pour down Grace’s face. Many in the crowd weep alongside her. But Grace is not only sad, she’s determined. And as she finishes her speech, she makes it clear that she will not rest until she finds out the truth of what happened to Flight 370.

But in the months that follow, the search falters and the Malaysian government announces its intention to conclude its efforts in a few months time. But then, in July 2015, a cleanup crew finds a scrap of metal on Reunion Island, a few hundred miles from Madagascar, nowhere near the area where Flight 370 was thought to have crashed.

Soon though, investigators are able to reveal the truth: the piece of scrap found was carried thousands of miles from the crash point in the South Indian Ocean to Reunion Island where Johnny Begue and his crew happened upon it.

When Grace hears the news she does not feel any closure, just more overwhelming grief, and an equally strong desire to keep going. Grace, and many other family members, do not give up their fight to find the wreckage. Calling themselves Voice 370, they keep pushing for the Malaysian government to continue the effort. But even after more wreckage is found on the coasts of Mozambique and Madagascar, the Malaysian government refuses to commit resources to search further along the African coastline.

So Grace and the others travel to Madagascar to search for themselves. There, they find more debris, each item a heart-wrenching piece of the puzzle of what truly happened to their loved ones. But eventually, Grace is forced to return home to her work and family. But before she leaves, she enlists the help of locals and prints flyers in multiple languages asking people to support Voice 370’s quest for answers.

But her measures are in vain. Not long after Grace’s trip to Madagascar, in January 2017, the Malaysian government officially calls off the search for Flight 370. But they are not the only country engaged in the mission. Over the course of the years-long hunt, ships, and aircraft from Australia, China, New Zealand, South Korea, the UK, and the US also participate. But in the end, all of them abandon their efforts.

The search for Malaysian Flight 370 is the largest and most expensive in aviation history. But after all the dollars spent, and the countless man-hours expended, the truth remains elusive. Still, Grace does not fall into despair. Instead, she and other family members of the lost passengers will persevere and continue the search.

Act Three: The 8th Annual Remembrance

It’s March 6th, 2022. Grace Nathan sits in front of her computer. She stares at the green light that tells her webcam is on. She takes in a deep breath and then exhales.

It’s been 8 years since her mother’s plane disappeared, 8 years without hearing her mother’s voice. In that time, Grace has gotten married and built a successful career as a lawyer. But at times, she struggles to enjoy life. Nobody seems to understand her grief except the other families of Flight 370.

One by one, she sees their faces pop on her screen as they join her on a video call for the 8th Annual Remembrance of their loved ones’ disappearance.

Grace welcomes everyone and thanks them for joining. Then she plays a pre-recorded statement from the government of Malaysia. They offer their condolences and then explain, once again, why they will not restart the search for Flight 370 without new evidence of the plane’s location.

But Grace is not deterred. On the call, she makes her message clear too: the search for Flight 370 must go on.

"GRACE: But what’s more important than our grief, our loss, and our need for closure is the fact that finding MH370 will answer many questions that are of great importance to the international flying community and in fact the flying community in general. And as long as the questions surrounding MH370 remain unanswered, there will always be the risk that something like this could happen again."

Toward the end of the call, Grace and the rest are joined by the CEO of Ocean Infinity, a private company that joined the search for the missing plane in 2018. He shares information about new technology the company hopes will be useful. But ultimately, the search will not continue without the approval of the Malaysian government. So as the 8th Annual Remembrance Call draws to a close, Grace and the other members of Voice 370 vow to keep the pressure on; a fight that continues to this day.

The full truth of what happened to Malaysian Flight 370 remains a mystery, as does the location of the plane wreckage. Even now, new theories continue to emerge about where the plane went down and why. One leading theory is that the pilot intentionally brought the plane down in an act of murder-suicide. Others believe the plane suffered a catastrophic malfunction and the crash was a horrible accident. Though the full facts may never be known, the memory of the 239 lost passengers will always be on the minds of the family members who still yearn for the truth about what happened to Malaysian Flight 370 on this day, March 8th, 2014.


Next on History Daily.March 9th, 1954. Edward R. Murrow makes television and journalism history when he takes on Senator Joseph McCarthy.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Muhammed Shahzaib.

Sound design by Mollie Baack. 

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Ruben Abrahams Brosbe.

Produced by Alexandra Currie-Buckner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.