Netflix’s docuseries on the vanishing of MH370

Nine years ago, Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and disappeared from the radar mid-flight. And it was never seen again. The most bewildering aviation incident, and one of the most confounding unsolved mysteries of all time, her vanishment stunned the world and continues to plague our minds till this day. 

Streaming on Netflix, MH370: The Plane That Disappeared is a three-part documentary series that offers some insight into the baffling fate of the jet, by exploring theories that attempt to put pieces of the mystery together.

Here’s what you can expect from the documentary series, and our take on what it presents.


Questions & theories on the disappearance of MH370

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Image credit: Netflix

Directed by Louise Malkinson and produced by Harry Hewland, the three-episode documentary series delves into the puzzling disappearance of flight MH370. It was released on Netflix on 8th March 2023, exactly nine years after the actual incident.

On 8th March 2014, MH370 – a Boeing 777 airplane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members – departed on a routine red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The flight’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, signed off with a good night as the plane was crossing into Vietnamese territory. 

Shortly after being handed off from air traffic control in Malaysia to the control centre in Ho Chi Minh City, MH370 completely disappeared off all radar, seemingly vanishing into thin air.

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Image adapted from: Netflix

Distraught families of those onboard gathered in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing to wait for any news on the frantic search for the jet from the Malaysian authorities. Years since, little to no concrete information has emerged about MH370. Various theories about the plane’s trajectory and the discovery of supposed debris have emerged to fill the scarcity of answers due to the victims’ loved ones.

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Video adapted from: Netflix

Throughout the series, family members of passengers and crew are interviewed, as well as several Malaysian aviation investigators. However, the ones that were placed in the spotlight for the most part of the documentary are aviation journalist Jeff Wise and French investigative journalist Florence de Changy, who discussed different theories about what might have happened to the plane.

Each episode elaborates on different primary theories – some of which seems far-fetched at best – and with dramatic reenactments.

Episode 1: The Pilot

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Image adapted from: Netflix

The first episode explores one of the earliest theories to emerge when the disappearance of MH370 was still making headlines all over the world. 

The theory centres on the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, claiming that he had planned to commit mass-suicide by rerouting the plane and deliberately crashing it into the Indian Ocean. A sudden declaration of flight MH370 being a criminal investigation shocked the nation and the discovery of a flight simulator in Captain Zaharie’s house during a raid only added to the confusion.

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Image credit:
Aviation Stack Exchange

Beyond the claims that Captain Zaharie was “a veteran who’d be able to conceive of something as complicated as this”, there were little plausible evidence to back the rather bold accusation. The docuseries paints a rather elaborate and detailed picture of what might have gone down during the highly speculated “mass-suicide” through reenacted scenes.

But the show eventually shies away from this theory, with acknowledgement of the lack of solid proof to back the claim and testimonies from those who personally knew Captain Zaharie.

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Image adapted from: Netflix

Among the many people who attested to his character in the documentary are investigative journalist Florence de Changy, who did extensive research on him, and even the former Crisis Director of Malaysian Airlines who knew him personally. Captain Zaharie’s family members, cabin crew that have worked with him for a long time, and other victims’ family members also gave statements in defense of him. 

Episode 2: The Hijack

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Image adapted from: Netflix

In Episode 2, Jeff Wise questions the famed satellite data from Inmarsat – a British telecommunications company that offers global mobile services. It apparently showed that MH370’s electrical systems “came back to life” only after it had made a hard left deviation from its original flight path.

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Video adapted from: Netflix

He also brings up the tragic fate of yet another Malaysia Airlines Flight, MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine later the same year, by Russian forces. Factoring in both tragedies, Wise came to the conclusion that the Russians were likely also involved in the disappearance of MH370. He goes on to explain in exhaustive detail how three Russian men onboard could have gained access to the electronics bay, somehow taken control of the plane, and then crashed it into a desert in central Kazakhstan.

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Video adapted from: Netflix

His rather convoluted theory is debunked towards the end of the episode. Malaysia Airlines crisis director, Fuad Sharuji, explains that hijackers wouldn’t have thought to alter Inmarsat’s data as it isn’t usual for Inmarsat to track planes. Above that, he points out that it is impossible to control the aircraft from the electronic bay – a fact that strongly refutes this theory.

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Episode 3: The Intercept

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The last theory presented by the docuseries is no less bizarre.

According to journalist Florence de Changy, the jet was carrying suspicious cargo supposedly containing “highly sensitive US technology”. In order to stop it from reaching China, the flight was deliberately taken out by the US military, possibly through a missile strike or a mid-air collision.

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Video adapted from: Netflix

To back up this theory presented in the docuseries is US citizen Cyndi Hendry – a dedicated volunteer of Tomnod, a crowdsourcing tool that utilises high-powered satellite imagery. She claims to have found satellite images of the plane’s debris in the South China Sea during her personal investigation.

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Image adapted from: Netflix Netflix MH370

While Hendry remains steadfast in her discoveries, the blurry satellite images of the “debris” compared to actual body parts of the plane were neither strongly affirmed nor deemed completely implausible as proof of the plane’s final whereabouts.

Verdict: 3.5/5

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Image adapted from: Netflix

Without saying, most Malaysians have been eager to watch a Netflix documentary about the disappearance of MH370. But if you’re hoping for solid answers, you likely won’t be getting any. The three episodes rely heavily on conspiracy advocates and the somewhat outlandish theories that they have put forth, but offer no new revelations. 

Granted, the inconclusive explanations from authorities handling the investigations at the time allow room for all sorts of theories to take over. But the speculations spotlighted throughout the series lack convincing-enough evidence or facts, leaving the audience feeling dubious at the end, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the theories are well-presented in the documentary and graphics illustrating known details about the incident are especially helpful. The docuseries also fairly includes some fact-driven grounds and objective analyses by experts that debunk the theories.

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Video adapted from: Netflix

Theories aside, the sorrow and lingering hope of the victims’ families are rightfully highlighted through interviews and intimate conversations. Their journey in grieving and coping, and the heartbreaking search for answers and closure, are echoed well in nuggets throughout the series.

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That being said, the documentary feels like a capsule of already-known information and available footage that have been put together and refined for entertainment. As answers are owed to the victims’ families and not us, the outsiders, it would have been a better choice for the docuseries to try a more compassionate approach – one that pushes for rekindled efforts to search for MH370 again, to give the families the closure they deserve.

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Image adapted from: Netflix

Netflix’s ‘MH370: The Plane That Disappeared’ review 

Almost a decade later, and the disappearance of MH370 still remains a mystery. While the Netflix docuseries does not provide concrete answers to questions swirling in our minds, the possible explanations – conspiracy theories included – behind the tragic incident makes for a rather intriguing and thought-provoking watch.

Read more here:

Cover image adapted from: Netflix

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