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What we know about Malaysia Airlines flight 370

A man watches a large screen showing different flights at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in this March 13, 2014 file photo. The unexplained fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has thrown the spotlight on some satellite technologies that will make it easier in future for authorities to track and communicate with aircraft over water and uninhabited areas. Picture taken March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A man watches a large screen showing different flights at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in this March 13, 2014 file photo.Damir Sagolj/Reuters

A massive international effort is underway in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. There were 239 people (12 crew members and 227 passengers) on the Boeing 777. The jet lost contact about 40 minutes into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Malaysian officials, authorities from 26 other nations, and experts from around the world are trying to figure out what happened to the jetliner.

There have been many twists and turns in the unfolding case coupled with endless speculation in the media and the internet’s never-ending supply of conspiracy theories. Here is a look at what we know:

What’s the latest in the investigation?

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Staff at satellite communications company Inmarsat work in front of a screen showing subscribers using their service throughout the world, at their headquarters in London March 25, 2014. Britain's Inmarsat used a wave phenomenon discovered in the nineteenth century to analyse the seven pings its satellite picked up from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to determine its final destination.The new findings led Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to conclude that the Boeing 777, which disappeared more than two weeks ago, crashed thousands of miles away in the southern Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people on board. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS TELECOMS)
Staff at satellite communications company Inmarsat.Andrew Winning/Reuters

Update:

Investigators have concluded that the area in the southern Indian Ocean where pings were detected is not the final resting place of the missing jetliner, the Associated Press reports.

The underwater search for the plane will be suspended for a couple of months, while more powerful equipment is brought in to search a larger area.

On May 27, the Malaysian government released the raw satellite data, a move that was long demanded by families of the passengers on board.

Investigators said they believe the plane was deliberately diverted from its flight path, but without the flight data recorders or the plane there is no certainty about what really happened onboard, the AP reports.

The Malaysian government released the first report of its investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on May 1, 2014. The report said officials didn’t notice for 17 minutes that the plane went off radar and didn’t activate rescue efforts for four hours. Read more on the report.

The Malaysian government released the full transcript of the final recorded conversation between ground control and the cockpit of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 on April 1. Read more here.

In the wake of the plane’s disappearance, the International Air Transport Association also announced on April 1 that it is creating a task force to address security improvements in tracking planes and screening passengers, the Associated Press reports.

Court documents that often precede a lawsuit were filed in Chicago on March 25 on behalf of a relative of a passenger on flight 370, the Associated Press reported. This is likely the first of many legal moves toward gaining compensation for the families of the passengers.

In March, authorities said they believed someone on the flight shut down the messaging system around the time the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar, the AP reported.

But an Inmarsat satellite was able to automatically connect with a portion of the messaging system that remained in operation, similar to a phone call that just rings because no one is on the other end to pick it up and provide information. No location information was exchanged, but the satellite continued to identify the plane once an hour for four to five hours after it disappeared from radar screens.

Another AP report noted that the communication system was disabled 40 minutes into the flight.

Authorities have said someone on board the plane first disabled one of its communications systems, the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, about 40 minutes after takeoff. The ACARS equipment sends information about the jet?s engines and other data to the airline. About 14 minutes later, the transponder that identifies the plane to commercial radar systems was also shut down.

Here is an interactive that breaks down the investigation.

Are there suspects?

Authorities have not named any suspects, but they are scrutinizing all of the passengers on board, particularly those with aviation skills. Police have asked for background checks from abroad on all foreign passengers, the Associated Press reports.

[Malaysia's defense minister] said such checks have been received for all the foreigners except those from Ukraine and Russia which account for three passengers. "So far, no information of significance on any passengers has been found," Hishammuddin said.

China has said background checks on all its nationals on board the plane uncovered no links to terrorism. There were 154 Chinese among the plane’s 227 passengers. Read more here.

Investigators have been looking into the plane’s two pilots, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. They have also searched both of their homes.

The Los Angeles Times reported that authorities have not found anything disturbing in the pilots’ personal lives.

A review of emails and a search of a home flight simulator have found nothing to suggest the pilots on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 purposely diverted it from its Beijing destination, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials.

Where are authorities searching for the plane?

A handout image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, Australia, on Mar. 28, 2014 shows the new search area in the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia, for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. EPA/AMSA

The search area for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has had several shifts during the investigation into the missing plane.

On May 29, investigators said the area in the southern Indian Ocean where pings were previously detected is not the final resting place of the missing jetliner, the Associated Press reports.

The underwater search for the plane will be suspended for a couple of months. Authorities are bringing in more powerful sonar equipment to search a larger area of 56,000 square kilometers (21,600 square miles), based on analysis of satellite data on the plane’s most likely course.

On April 29, Malaysian officials said radar and satellite data showed the plane veered off course for unknown reasons, and analysis indicated that it likely ran out of fuel in a remote area of the Indian Ocean—the same area where the search had been focused.

In April underwater signals or pings were detected by Australian search crews and Chinese search crews. At that time, Australian authorities said they were confident the signals detected in the Indian Ocean were from the plane’s black boxes, the AP reported.

The search previously took place in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, after debris was spotted by various satellites. The old search area was vast and far from land, about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, and was plagued with storms, high winds, and low visibility.

At the end of March,the search area moved to about 1,150 miles west of Perth, which is on the west coast of Australia. The area is still large, but is about 80 percent smaller than the old one and does not have the same harsh weather conditions. Australian officials said the search area changed as a result of new analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

Previously, based off the plane’s last signal to a satellite, investigators had identified two arcs of territory spanning the possible positions of the plane about 7 ½ hours after takeoff. That area stretched from the southern Indian Ocean up to Kazakhstan in central Asia. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on March 15 that the last confirmed signal picked by a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time, which was 7 hours and 31 minutes after takeoff.

Here is a day-by-day look at the early days of the search.

What is the background of the pilots?

Peter Chong holds a smartphone displaying a picture of himself with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (R) during an interview with Reuters at a hotel in Sepang March 18, 2014. International media scrutiny and investigations by the Malaysian police have failed to turn up red flags on either the captain, 53-year-old grandfather Zaharie, or the co-pilot, 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid. Family and friends say there is nothing in their personalities or past to suggest they would have committed foul play. "I've never seen him lose his temper. It's difficult to believe any of the speculation made against him," said Chong, a friend of Zaharie, describing him as highly disciplined and conscientious. REUTERS/Samsul Said (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (right) with a friend.Samsul Said/Reuters

The flight’s pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, was born in northern Penang state and is a grandfather. Shah joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flight experience. People who knew Shah from his involvement in opposition political circles in Malaysia and other areas of his life described him as sociable, humble, caring, and dedicated to his job, according to the Associated Press.

A Facebook page apparently created by Shah shows an aviation enthusiast who had his own flight simulator and remote-controlled planes.

He was also a home cook and had a YouTube account where he posted videos on various home repair projects such as how to waterproof window panes and how to repair a refrigerator icemaker.

Shah is a distant relative of Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, but sources close to him have stated that he was not an extremist.

Ibrahim told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on March 19 that he has met Shah “on a number of occasions” and that Shah is no extremist.

Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, is the eldest of five children, and was said to be engaged and planning his wedding, according to the Associated Press.

Hamid joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007, according to The New York Times. He had 2,763 flight hours overall, the Associated Press reported.

Described by the imam of his local mosque as a "good boy" and by neighbors as pious, co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was dubbed a playboy by foreign media after the revelation he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for an international flight in 2011. During the journey, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, said in an interview broadcast by Australia's Nine Network. Two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for an international flight in 2011. During the journey, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, said in an interview broadcast by Australia's Nine Network.

Officials early on believed Hamid spoke the final words from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — to the air traffic controllers. But on April 1, the Malaysian government released a transcript of the final recorded communication, which shows the last words from the cockpit were “Good night Malaysian Three Seven Zero.” Officials are investigating who spoke those words.

Malaysia’s defense minister said the last communication came after a signaling system had stopped transmitting, according to The New York Times.

Who was on board flight 370?

In this handout photo taken March 4, 2014 and provided March 18, 2014 by Daniel Liau, Chinese artist Meng Gaosheng poses in front of pieces of his work on display at an exhibition of Chinese art in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, just days before he boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 370 to Beijing that has since gone missing. Prize-winning calligrapher Meng Gaosheng, 64, was leading a delegation of two dozen artists to Malaysia for a three-day exhibition in Kuala Lumpur titled �The China Dream, An Ode to Colors.� (AP Photo)
A picture of Chinese artist Meng Gaosheng taken just days before he boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 370.AP

The 12 crew members and 227 passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet were from all over the world and represent 14 nationalities, including Americans, New Zealanders, Iranians, and Indonesians. Two thirds (154) of the passengers were from China.

Here is a look at some of their stories.

What about those stolen passports?

A combination photo shows two men whom police said were travelling on stolen passports onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane, taken before their departure at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in this March 11, 2014 handout courtesy of the Malaysian Police. Malaysia's Police Chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference, that one of the men (L) was identified as a 19-year-old Iranian Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad while the identity of the other was being investigated.REUTERS/Malaysian Police/Handout via Reuters (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY
Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad (left), 18, and Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29.Reuters

Two passengers, Pouri Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 18, and Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29, used European passports stolen in Thailand. The passports were from Austria and Italy. News of the stolen passports prompted speculation about terrorism, but the two men were later cleared of any link to terror groups, according to ABC News.

Officials said at least one of the two men, Mehrdad, was an Iranian asylum seeker, according to Time.

What are the theories about what might have happpened?

The theories surrounding what happened to the missing jetliner run the gamut from wildly bizarre conspiracy theories (aliens, the Illuminati, Bermuda Triangle) to the slightly more plausible theories (pilot error, hijacking, mechanical failure).

An aviation blogger and pilot has put forth a simple theory that has gone viral about the pilots possibly dealing with an emergency fire and attempting to turn around in an effort to make an emergency landing.

The fact remains, however, that the investigation into the Malaysian jet is ongoing and no theory has been confirmed. Police are considering a variety of possibilities including: terrorism, hijacking, sabotage or issues related to the mental health of those on board. Investigators are continuing to gather evidence and information to piece together what may have actually happened to the plane. Meanwhile, the families of the 239 passengers also wait for any clues as to what happened to their loved ones.

What if the plane is never found?

This outcome is considered unlikely by experts.

According to the Associated Press:

Experts say the plane's disappearance will likely put pressure on airlines and governments to improve the way they monitor planes, including handoff procedures between countries. Flight 370 vanished after it signed off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers, and never made contact with their Vietnamese counterparts as it should have.

And if the plane is never found, liability issues will be a huge headache for courts. With no wreckage, it would be difficult to determine whether the airline, manufacturers or other parties should bear the brunt of responsibility.

A failed search would certainly be most painful for the families and friends of the passengers.

How will the families be compensated?

Malaysia Airlines has offered families of the passengers an initial payment of $5,000 per passenger, CNN reported. That amount is likely to get larger.

Under an international treaty known as the Montreal Convention, the airline must pay relatives of each deceased passenger an initial sum of around $150,000 to $175,000.

The families can also sue for damages. So far, there has been one court filing on behalf of a relative.

On March 25, an attorney in Chicago filed documents that often precede a lawsuit on behalf of a relative of a passenger on flight 370, the Associated Press reported.

The filing in Chicago asks a judge to order Malaysia Airlines and Chicago-based Boeing Co. to turn over documents related to the possible "negligence" caused the Boeing 777 to crash, including any documentation about the chances of "fatal depressurization" in the cockpit.

"Additional pleadings will be filed in the next few days against other potential defendants who are designers and manufacturers of the component parts that may have failed in the aircraft," Chicago-based Ribbeck Law Chartered attorney Monica Kelly said in a statement.

On its company website, Ribbeck Law highlights its experience in getting compensation for aviation accident victims and their families. Kelly has been in Beijing meeting with relatives of the passengers about potential lawsuits, The New York Times reported.

"It's not an issue of whether families will be compensated," Ms. Kelly said recently while munching on French fries with her 12-year-old son at a restaurant across the street from the Lido. "It's a question of how much and when."

But Ms. Kelly admitted that Flight 370 was a uniquely difficult case. "We've done more than 43 plane crashes," she said, "and there's never been a situation like this one, ever."

Some relatives have already received compensation from insurance companies, according to the Times.

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