It has been a year now and the mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has still not been officially solved. And since no rational explanation has emerged, despite the most expensive search in history, there has been a spate of what one might call ‘supra-rational’ explanations. In other words, conspiracy theories.

The most common of these, perhaps, is that MH370 was hijacked by the Taliban, who landed the aircraft somewhere in Central Asia, and are keeping it in readiness for a 9/11-type strike somewhere on the globe, taking advantage of its unmatched 7,500-mile range. But there are various other theories that have popped up over the past 12 months, each spookier than the last.  Here are some of the more popular ones:

1. It was a US ‘black op’, in which MH370 was commandeered, for some clandestine cargo it was carrying, and flown to the top-secret US base at Diego Garcia. After the cargo was successfully retrieved, the aircraft, along with its passengers (by now dead), was flown to the edge of Antarctica, by remote control, and crashed there, to destroy all evidence.

2. The aircraft was shot down by a Chinese submarine-based missile, because there was a politically undesirable passenger on board who needed to be neutralised.

3. The aircraft was inadvertently shot down by the US air force, in a joint military exercise with the Thai air force. But the US didn’t want to admit it, because it happened just weeks before a long-awaited visit to Malaysia by President Obama.

4. The aircraft happened to be carrying 20 employees of Freescale Semiconductor, a high-tech US company that works on top-secret “invisibility cloak” technologies. It was therefore hijacked by the Chinese (or the Americans, depending on your point of view).

5. There was an identical twin of MH370 sitting in a secret hangar in Israel since November 2013, intended for some unknown future purpose.

6. Malaysian Airlines MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in July, was, in fact, the disguised MH370, which had been earlier hijacked by the Americans, to create an international incident that would embarrass President Putin.

Flights of fancy

The conspiracy theories, became increasingly more fanciful. Consider this one, that emerged just before last year’s Indian general elections: Flight MH370 had, in fact, been commandeered by Israeli agents, who flew it to the farthest, most inaccessible part of the Indian Ocean and deliberately crashed it there, in the 4.5 km deep waters. They would now wait until Narendra Modi had been installed as Prime Minister.

At that point, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 – i.e. the identical twin of MH370 that was parked in the secret hangar in Israel, as mentioned above – would be crashed into an Indian city, in a 9/11 type attack, ostensibly perpetrated by Iranian terrorists. This false flag attack was supposedly designed to draw a hawkish new Indian government into retaliating accordingly, and thereby joining Israel’s long-standing campaign against Iran.

This scenario was retro-fitted to a song that earlier conspiracy theorists had pointed to: Get It Started by Pitbull and Shakira, which contains the eerie lyrics, “… now it's off to Malaysia/ Two passports, three cities, two countries, one day”, preceded by “… Mumbai/ All lit up like a December night, 4th of July.”

To which, all one can say is: Wow.

The thing is that, according to neurobiological research, the human brain is hard-wired to believe in the supra-rational. In other words, there’s a button inside our heads that pushes us to believe in conspiracy theories. For example, if we see a bush shake we automatically think that there’s something hiding behind it. This exaggerated sense of cause and effect developed in our brains nearly 200,000 years ago, for purposes of survival: if there was even a small chance of a predator behind that bush, it made sense to be afraid, and take appropriate action. Those of us who developed that sense, survived; those who didn’t, became extinct. Simple as that.

Back to basics

But, on the other hand, in philosophy there is a concept called “Occam’s Razor”, which basically tells us that out of any given set of possibilities, the one most likely to be correct is the one that – given a careful examination of the facts – is the simplest. Thus Occam’s Razor would, in this case, lead us to the 90 crucial seconds that night, between 1.18 a.m. and 1.20 a.m., when Flight MH370 passed from Malaysian airspace to Vietnamese airspace. And from the known into the unknown.

The fact is, at 1.18 a.m.  MH370 signed out from Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, saying, “Malaysian 370, goodnight”. These words should have been followed – immediately – by “Ho Chi Min, Malaysian 370, good morning”, as it signed in with Ho Chi Min city air traffic control. Instead, three things happened successively in those next 90 seconds: First, the aircraft’s transponder, its main mode of identification with air traffic controllers on the ground, suddenly went silent. Second, the aircraft’s ACARS, designed to continuously transmit the health of the aircraft in flight, suddenly went silent. And third, instead of proceeding north-east towards its destination, MH370, abruptly turned 135 degrees to the west, doubling back over Malaysia.

These three things together point to the fact that, for whatever reason, MH370 deliberately wanted to disappear. Because, if there was a perfect spot for a disappearance, this was it – in the fuzzy technical grey zone between the two airspace sectors.

But what happened next is telling. Having turned sharply west, the aircraft then suddenly climbed from its normal altitude of 35,000 ft to its maximum ceiling of 45,000 ft. And then, equally suddenly, it dived down to 18,000 ft, turning sharply south. What all this erratic behavior suggests is that there was a violent struggle going on in the cockpit. By now the aircraft had re-crossed the narrow Malaysian peninsula, and headed out over the Indian Ocean. It then continued on its long, straight, final path towards Antarctica, where we know – thanks to the information carefully pieced together from Inmarsat’s satellite – that it sank.

All of this seems to point to only one possibility: that someone tried to hijack the aircraft at the point of hand-over from Malaysian air traffic control to Vietnamese air traffic control. The pilot and co-pilot tried to resist the hijackers, their struggle throwing the aircraft all over the sky. In this process, the pilot, co-pilot, and hijackers either died or were incapacitated. The aircraft then continued to fly on, until it finally ran out of fuel, and fell out of the sky, into the southern Indian Ocean.

There, its black box – which would have given us a definitive picture of the happenings – continued to ping out its location. Except that, unfortunately, there was nobody listening. Because, in the confusion surrounding the aircraft’s disappearance, the authorities had lost precious days searching in the wrong place, in the South China Sea. By the time the search teams zeroed in on the new location, with the help of Inmarsat’s new satellite information, the black box had finally run out of battery life and gone dead. So the wreckage, and the vital clues it could have given us, had, alas, disappeared.

Hence, to the question, “What happened to Flight MH370?” here is the most likely answer: it was simply a hijacking gone wrong.

But as a former Chief of the Indian Air Force told me, when I spoke to him him about this – and other – possibilities, “We will not know for sure, until we find the evidence.” And so there we must let the matter rest, 4.5km under the southern Indian Ocean, along with the bodies of Flight MH370’s 239 ill-fated passengers.