All but one of the 239 people on the doomed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had probably been unconscious — incapacitated by the sudden depressurization of the Boeing 777 — and had no way of knowing they were on an hours-long, meandering path to their deaths.
Along that path, a panel of aviation experts speculated Sunday, was a brief but telling detour near Penang, Malaysia, the home town of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
On two occasions, whoever was in control of the plane — and was probably the only one awake — tipped the craft to the left. The experts believe Zaharie, the plane's pilot, was taking a final look.
That is the chilling theory that the team of analysts assembled by Australia's “60 Minutes” have posited about the final hours of MH370. The conclusions have not been backed by any official findings from investigations into the mystery surrounding the March 2014 flight. But the experts on the "60 Minutes” show sought to draw the most likely scenario of the plane's fate from the little that is known.
They suspect that the plane's 2014 disappearance and apparent crash was a suicide by the 53-year-0ld Zaharie — and a premeditated act of mass murder.
But first, the experts said, they believe that Zaharie depressurized the plane, knocking out anyone aboard who wasn't wearing an oxygen mask. That would explain the silence from the plane as it veered wildly off course: no mayday from the craft's radio, no final goodbye texts, no attempted emergency calls that failed to connect.
That would also explain how whoever was in control had time to maneuver the plane to its final location.
The wreckage has not been found, though hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into the four-year search. The secret of what happened in the final moments of the ill-fated flight — and the motive behind it all — probably died with its passengers and pilot.
But the “60 Minutes” team — which included aviation specialists, the former Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief in charge of investigating MH370's crash, and an oceanographer — put forth what they believe is the most likely theory.
“The thing that gets discussed the most is that at the point where the pilot turned the transponder off, that he depressurized the airplane, which would disable the passengers,” said Larry Vance, a veteran aircraft investigator from Canada. “He was killing himself. Unfortunately, he was killing everyone else onboard. And he did it deliberately.”
Zaharie's suspected suicide might explain an oddity about the plane's final flight path: that unexpected turn to the left.
“Captain Zaharie dipped his wing to see Penang, his home town,” Simon Hardy, a Boeing 777 senior pilot and instructor, said on “60 Minutes.”
“If you look very carefully, you can see it's actually a turn to the left, and then start a long turn to the right. And then [he does] another left turn. So I spent a long time thinking about what this could be, what technical reason is there for this, and, after two months, three months thinking about this, I finally got the answer: Someone was looking out the window.”
“It might be a long, emotional goodbye,” Hardy added. “Or a short, emotional goodbye to his home town.”
Flight 370 disappeared March 8, 2014, shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing.
The craft is thought to have crashed in the far southern Indian Ocean.