More than a year after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 we are still no closer to knowing what became of the plane and the 239 souls on board.
As the so far fruitless underwater search continues off the coast of Australia, questions are being asked as to whether investigators dismissed critical information in the crucial first days after the Boeing 777 aircraft vanished.
Indeed in the immediate aftermath, it was reported that several Maldives islanders witnessed a “low-flying jumbo jet” on the day the aircraft disappeared, with some commenting on its distinctive red and blue livery - the colours of Malaysia Airlines.
Residents on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Kuda Huvadhoo are adamant they saw the doomed plane (file picture)
One told the local Haveeru news website: “I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We’ve seen seaplanes, but I’m sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.”
Now, one newspaper has revisited the tiny Indian Ocean island of Kuda Huvadhoo to speak once again to the same villagers who believe they saw the plane make its final descent into the ocean.
If they are correct, the final resting place of the plane could be over 5,000km away from where the official search is currently ongoing.
Abdu Rasheed Ibrahim, 47, a court official:
“I watched this very large plane bank slightly and I saw its colours — the red and blue lines — below the windows, then I heard the loud noise.
“It was unusual, very unusual. It was big and it was flying low. It was a holiday (Saturday) and most people had gone to bed after praying.
“First, I saw the plane flying towards me over water. When it was over my head I saw it starting to turn away. At first glance, I did not know it was a missing plane. I didn’t know that a plane was missing. I went straight home and told my wife about it. I told my family, ‘I saw this strange plane’. This is the biggest plane I have ever seen from this island. My family says, ‘It might be the Malaysian plane’. I have seen pictures of the missing plane — I believe that I saw that plane. At the time it was lost, I strongly felt those people who were searching should come here.”
Humaam Dhonmamk, 16, student:
“I saw the blue and red on a bit of the side. I heard the loud noise of it after it went over. I told the police this too.”
Ahmed Shiyaam, 34, IT manager at the local medical clinic:
“I’m very sure of what I saw on a very clear and bright day, and what I saw was not normal — the plane was very big, and low. I did not know until later that other people saw it too.”
Ahmed Ibrahim, 40:
“This was not a normal sight — the plane was different. It was very big, very noisy, flying low. Later that afternoon on the beach I was told the news about the missing plane. I think this is the same flight.”
Six of the key witnesses they spoke to were interviewed by police and their accounts were regarded as truthful and consistent, the newspaper writes.
It posits two possible reasons as to why the accounts of these potential observers have not been taken seriously.
One is that these accounts from villagers in an atoll lacking radar in a country with outdated and limited defence and air traffic equipment are considered no match for the mathematical calculations which have pinpointed the crash zone along an arc around 1,800km southwest of Perth, where the search is currently active.
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Of the second, it writes: “The Maldives National Defence Force, responsible for guarding the security and sovereignty of the low-lying country, issued a statement in March last year ruling out any such aircraft movement over its air space. The locals were surprised and felt humiliated.
"Several of those we spoke to in Kuda Huvadhoo were scornful, accusing their defence chiefs of seeking to save face and not wanting to admit to their people or the world that the limitations of Maldives radar and other equipment could not detect such flights.”
The islanders have not been completely ignored, however. Former Proteus Airlines boss Marc Dugain has suggested the plane was shot down by the United States after being remotely hacked – and he cites some of the islanders’ accounts in his findings.
Marc Dugain believes the plane was shot down by the USA
Dugain claims that fearing a 9/11-style terror attack, the USA took action from the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia after learning hackers had taken control of the Boeing 777.
He reports speaking to residents of the Maldives who saw "red and blue stripes with a white background" on a plane heading towards Diego Garcia on the day of MH370's disappearance.
In an interview with Paris Match magazine, Dugain also claimed to have seen pictures of an empty Boeing fire extinguisher washed up on a beach on the nearby Baarah island.
The former airline boss suggests that Boeing planes are particularly vulnerable to hijacking, and could have been set on fire remotely.
The Maldives are an island nation in the Indian Ocean–Arabian Sea area, consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls
"In 2006, Boeing patented a remote control system using a computer placed inside or outside the aircraft," Dugain told Paris Match.
He told France Inter: "It’s [Diego Garcia] an extremely powerful military base. It’s surprising that the Americans have lost all trace of this aircraft."
The couple were travelling from Cochin, India to Phuket on board a 40-foot sloop when Tee saw: “… the outline of a plane. It looked longer than planes usually do. There was what appeared to be black smoke streaming from behind it.”
The MH370 search area
In June 2014, Dr Alec Duncan of Perth Curtin University Centre for Marine Science and Technology revealed a signal had been detected by sound recorders usually used to monitor whales near Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia.
It was picked up just after 1.30am on the day the aircraft vanished.
Though he cautioned the noise could also have been caused by a natural event, such as an earth tremor, he explained data retrieved from one of the IMOS acoustic recorders “showed a clear acoustic signal at a time that was reasonably consistent with other information relating to the disappearance of MH370.
“The crash of a large aircraft in the ocean would be a high energy event and expected to generate intense underwater sounds.”
While the signal was recorded off the coast of western Australia, the original location of the noise is believed to be around 3,000 miles north-west of the country – placing the point of origin just off the southern tip of India.
Speaking to the New York Times, Dr Duncan added: “It’s not even really a thump sort of sound – it’s more of a dull oomph.”
This week the Western Australian spoke once again to Dr Duncan, who refused to rule out the noise as being connected to the crash.
He said: “Unfortunately the reality is that there are so many ifs, buts and maybes involved in all this that it would be more correct to say that our team has identified an approximate possible location for the origin of a noise that is probably of geological origin, but cannot be completely ruled out as being connected with the loss of MH370.”