MH370. Modern aviation, and the world at large, will forever remember this fateful identifier.
It began just like any other scheduled flight. Passengers awkwardly moving down the crowded aisles, looking for their allocated seats. Here, the clatter of the overhead compartment as people stow their belongings away. There, the nervous laughter of those not so keen on flying as they fumble with their seat belts and try to settle for a long night flight. Hidden from view, an air hostess hurriedly dusts off her uniform while one of her colleagues checks the passenger manifest. The long cabin bustles with activity.
Locked away in the cockpit, the flight crew preps the aircraft for departure.
The Boeing 777, callsign MAS370, slowly hums into life as systems are initialized and pre-flight checklists are thoroughly completed. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah will be flying the aircraft tonight. He is a seasoned aviator, a keen flight enthusiast with over 18,000 flying hours to his name. Zaharie’s First Officer in tonight’s flight is 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid. With just over 2,000 flying hours, this is Hamid’s first flight as a fully qualified first officer in a Boeing 777.
MH370 is scheduled to depart Kuala Lumpur International Airport after midnight, March 08.
As the aircraft taxies down the runway, the lights of the terminal become momentarily brighter, as the plane’s taxi lights are switched off to avoid distracting any pilot attempting to land.
‘MH370, permitted for take off’, the air traffic controller announces. ‘Good night.’
‘MH370 copies that. Thank you, and goodbye.’
Zaharie opens up the throttles and the aircraft obediently and rapidly picks up speed. As it thunders down the runway, the passengers within watch the world outside become a blur. They will never see dry land again.
The aircraft reaches take off speed and the captain pulls back on the control column. The Boeing rotates, and for a fleeting moment, gravity fights to maintain its hold on this man made artefact. The machine’s raw power trounces nature however, and the aircraft neatly leaves the ground, initiating its final ascent into the skies. It’s 0:41 local time.
Inside, the passengers prepare to sleep, or perhaps listen to some relaxing music, or read their favourite best seller. 239 souls in total travel in this state of the art aircraft. 239 people, from 13 different countries, all blissfully unaware of the drama that would shortly unfold, unaware of the events that would turn this normal, scheduled flight out of Malaysia tonight into one of the biggest mysteries of modern aviation.
MH370 would vanish less than an hour later. The plane reached its cruising altitude at 35,000 feet, and then communications were disabled, either accidentally or intentionally. Only time will tell.
The aircraft veered off course and flew into history, carrying its human cargo into eternity.