Last updated Wednesday, October 22, 2014 12:23am

The Boeing 777-236ER used for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 now missing, is pictured during takeoff at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France in this undated image. — WikiMedia CommonsThe Boeing 777-236ER used for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 now missing, is pictured during takeoff at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France in this undated image. — WikiMedia CommonsKUALA LUMPUR, March 9 — The sudden disappearance yesterday of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 — with no distress call or other signs of trouble — has ignited intense speculation over what happened to the jet and its 239 passengers.

Following are some of the scenarios being mulled over by regional authorities, investigators and industry experts.

Q: Is mechanical or structural failure likely?

Sudden, accidental structural failures leading to explosions or a sudden loss of cabin pressure are considered extremely unlikely in today’s passenger aircraft.

This is especially so with the Boeing 777-200 model, which has one of the best safety records of any jet.

“From a crack, there can be a whole structure breakdown that allows for no response. But in the last two to three decades there have been next to nil such incidents,” said Ravi Madavaram, an aviation analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

Indonesia-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said based on the MH370 plane’s maintenance records, “there is nothing that would jump straight out of the page”.

Q: How likely is human error in this case?

The MH370 case may draw comparisons with the crash in 2009 of an Air France into the Atlantic Ocean, which killed more than 200 people.

An investigation said speed sensors failed, causing the Airbus jet to stall and lose altitude. But it also said pilots failed to react correctly, losing control of the jet.

In the Gallery


  • Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight read the Quran inside a car outside the hotel where they are staying in Putrajaya March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A spokesman (centre) of Malaysia Airlines is surrounded by journalists as he gives a briefing about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cry at a hotel in Putrajaya March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Arni Marlina, 36, a family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, shows a family picture on her mobile phone, at a hotel in Putrajaya March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysia’s former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi takes part in multi-religion mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Volunteer rescue workers and religious organisations pray during multi-religion mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Rescue workers from a Buddhist organisation pray during multi-religion mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Datin Seri Paduka Rosmah Mansor, wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, cries with family members of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Putrajaya March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman sleeps as Buddhist monks on stage pray during multi-religion mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. ― Reuters pic

  • An upset relative of a passenger of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 approaches an official at a hotel in Putrajaya March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A member of the Chinese navy stands next to Chinese navy warship "Jinggangshan" as it prepares to leave for the search and rescue operations of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province early March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Vietnamese Air Force officers sit in the cockpit of a search and rescue aircraft as they fly over the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250 km fromVietnam and 190 km from Malaysia, March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysia Airlines representatives speak at a news conference about information on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ahmad Jauhari Yahya listens at a news conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • DAP's Lim Kit Siang visits the relatives of the passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Everly Hotel, Putrajaya, March 9, 2014. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein talks to the relatives of the passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Everly Hotel, Putrajaya, March 9, 2014. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • PKR president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (left) and her daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar (second from left) arrives at Everly Hotel, Putrajaya, March 9,2014. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • A passenger (right) looks at police officers (left) and paramilitary policemen on duty at the Beijing Capital International Airport after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, in Beijing, March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • China's largest patrol vessel in the South China Sea ‘Haixun 31’ (centre) is seen at a port before leaving for search and rescue operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in Sanya, Hainan province, March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A customs officer checks the travel documents and passports of passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A relative (left) of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is escorted by a caregiver from Malaysia Airlines as they walk in a corridor at a hotel in Beijing, March 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

Soejatman said despite all the safety features on modern aircraft, well-trained pilots taking proper action in an emergency also is essential.

“If the crew is not on the ball, they quickly lose control of the situation,” he said.

Q: Was it an attempted hijacking or terror attack?

This spectre has loomed after authorities said at least two passengers had boarded with stolen passports. Malaysian officials also said Sunday radar data indicated the pilot may have inexplicably tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur.

Analysts said the absence of any distress signal raises eyebrows, as it could indicate an event so sudden that the crew could not respond.

“There was not even time for the pilot or crew to raise an alarm. It could have happened due to a deliberate act — by a pilot or a terrorist — but this is all very speculative,” Ravi said.

The terror theory’s credibility is hurt by the fact that — so far — no claim of responsibility has surfaced.

“What’s the motive? If they didn’t bring any weapons, it is extremely difficult to get into the cockpit,” said Shukor Yusof, aviation analyst with Standard & Poor’s.

He also noted that stolen passports do not necessarily equate to terrorism.

Large numbers of illegal workers, as well as criminal syndicates, are known to move between Malaysia and neighbouring countries such as Thailand. The two suspect passports were reportedly stolen in Thailand.

Q: Is lax security at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to blame?

The modern facility does not have a history of known security breaches.

But Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said the passport issue could indicate a “glaring flaw” in the airport’s immigration clearance.

He noted that Interpol maintains a database of stolen passports that should have raised red flags at the immigration counter.

“There are two categories of people who use these (stolen passports) — criminals and terrorists,” he said.

However, Shukor said the sheer volume of travellers moving through airports likely means not all forgeries can be caught.

“To blame Malaysian authorities for this is probably unfair — they have to get it right all the time and potential hijackers just have to get through once,” he said.

Q: Could violent turbulence or bad weather have brought down the plane?

This possibility is being widely discounted as all indications are that the weather was fine in the area where contact with MH370 was lost.

Q: Could it have run out of fuel?

Malaysia Airlines has said the plane was fuelled for at least eight hours of flight. The Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route lasts six hours.

Aircraft typically carry two hours’ worth of fuel on top of what is needed.

Adds Ravi: “If there was a fuel loss, the pilot would have enough time to call for distress signal, and to turn around and glide back to land.” — AFP