Decoding MH370

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Decoding MH370 - Overview

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is undoubtedly a tragedy. For family and friends of those on-board the basic facts are harsh: the aircraft went missing on 8th March 2014; the aircraft has not been found; and all 239 passengers and crew are presumed to have died. Questions such as who and why remain unanswered. Questions such as what, where and when are answered in language full of aviation jargon, technical terms, references to raw data, and interpretations reliant on advanced mathematics.

A goal of this website is to simplify, explain, and 'de-code' the aviation and technical terminology.

Typical Questions

There are many questions relating to flight MH370. In English, questions commonly begin with the words who, why, what, where and when. Sample questions are listed below with a description of how this website seeks to answer those questions and 'decode' the issues.

Who was flying the aircraft? Who diverted the aircraft? Who is responsible for the loss of the aircraft?

We know which pilots Malaysia Airlines allocated to flight MH370. However, was Captain Shah flying the aircraft from take-off, or the First Officer Fariq Hamid? The article Flight Deck provides some answers and clarifies terms like pilot flying and pilot not flying plus the use of words like flight deck instead of cockpit and First officer instead of co-pilot.

Why did the aircraft change direction? Why did Air Traffic Control 'lose contact' with the aircraft?

If an on-board emergency occurs it is normal for an aircraft to turn back to the airport from which it departed, or the nearest suitable airport. What is not normal is for a turn-back to occur without a distress call or any communication with air traffic control. Did a loss of communication occur because of a technical problem, or did the pilot(s) simply choose not to communicate? It's not quite that simple, however, because some transmissions from the aircraft were programmed to occur automatically. So to understand the issues requires some knowledge of the communication systems on the Boeing 777.

What actually happened on-board the aircraft? What do we really know about it?

The reality is, we don't know and unless a flight data recorder could be found and if the data on it was recoverable and useful we will never know. However, the Investigators collected as much information as they could and the data is available in official reports.

Where was the aircraft when it changed direction? Where did it go? Where is the aircraft now?

MH370 did not disappear. The aircraft was tracked by both civilian and military radar. The air traffic controllers did not follow the flight on their radar screens. And the military radar observers took no action even when the flight may have been unusual.

When did Air Traffic Control 'lose contact' with the aircraft? When did it change direction? When did the flight end?
A comprehensive Timeline has been developed using data extracted from the official reports and other reliable sources. The official reports contain short chronologies but those event timelines are inadequate. A Timeline is central to understanding what happened and what we know about flight MH370.

The issues involved in discussing or attempting to answer any of those questions involves unfamiliar language, terminology in an aviation context, or the various sciences used to support the search for MH370 and the technologies used by the aircraft for communications, plus so many other areas of expertise. The articles listed below, linked from the headings, describe how these terms are simplified or explained within this website.


Decoding the Flight Deck

This article explains the term flight deck, identifies the flight crew on MH370, and the terms Pilot in Command (PIC), First Officer and the concepts of the pilot flying and the pilot not flying.

Codes and Abbreviations

Within the aviation industry many terms are abbreviated but acceptable terms and abbreviations are defined by two organisations:-

  1. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
    ICAO codes are generally used by air traffic control and airline companies' internal documentation.
  2. The International Air Transport Association (IATA).
    IATA allocates codes to identify airlines, flights and airports. IATA codes are generally used on passenger documents.

The article Flight MH370 - Codes and Abbreviations explains many of the ICAO and IATA codes relevant to flight MH370.


To assist with understanding the terminology and abbreviations used in this website, a Glossary has been produced from official documents and reliable sources.


Each item in the Glossary has also been created as a Tooltip. Wherever those terms appear in the text of an article the existence of the Tooltip is identified by text which is faint underlined, and the additional information will be presented to the viewer if the mouse pointer or cursor is placed over the underlined text. For example, the Safety Investigation Report is usually underlined which indicates that further information is available in a Tooltip.
Some Tooltips also include a link to an article with more detail.

Decoding MH370 - English Language Usage

English may be a second language for many readers of this website. So in addition to all the technical terms and abbreviations the tooltips created for this website also include explanations of uncommon English words. See the article Decoding MH370 - English Language Usage.