02:36 - Source: CNN
Flight 370 questions? We've got answers

Story highlights

Experts conjecture that pilot or crew may have been bent on suicidal destruction

Commandeering is a takeover of a plane with idiosyncratic motives

Termination of plane's transponder leads some to think a hijacking may have occurred

The bizarre theories includes meteors, remote islands, military shoot-down

CNN —  

It’s been more than 12 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing from radar screens, and hard facts about its fate remain in short supply.

To fill the vacuum, experts and amateurs have been conjuring and sharing theories about what may have caused the commercial airliner carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members to seemingly disappear.

Its disappearance – as if into thin air – is disturbing in our age of continuous connectivity.

As a result, no speculation seems off limits, no matter how dark.

As aviation expert Mark Weiss put it: “I don’t think you can discount any theory, frankly.”

Here are some of the leading theories:

SPECULATION: PILOT SUICIDE

The evidence for it:

But it’s plausible.

For example, EgyptAir Flight 990 was flying 217 people from Los Angeles to New York to Cairo in 1999 when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. officials blamed a co-pilot, who was recorded repeating a prayer, for deliberately causing the crash, but Egyptian officials blamed mechanical problems.

The Malaysian Airlines flight, a Boeing 777, could have experienced destruction by pilot or crew, some say.

Is there a clue in pilot psychological evaluations?

“It’s my belief that there was probably some type of struggle in the cockpit where it was one of the pilots that maybe had a meltdown or did something nefarious to the airplane,” said Mark Weiss, a retired American Airlines pilot captain who has flown the Boeing 777 and now works at the Washington consulting firm Spectrum Group.

Or there could have been another crew member or an uninvited or invited guest in the cockpit who “was bent on perhaps committing suicide or doing some destruction on the aircraft,” Weiss added.

Though allowing guests to enter the cockpit would be improper and “should be disconcerting to anybody,” Weiss said, there is no one on a plane who can order them not to do so. Weiss cited a woman’s report that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, invited her and her friend into the cockpit, where they sat from takeoff to landing during a 2011 flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur.

“That’s an enormous breach of security,” Weiss said of cockpit guests.

But none of us will know what really happened in the cockpit “until we have the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder,” he added.

Bergen: Did terrorists take control of Flight 370?

SPECULATION: COMMANDEERING

The evidence for it:

A commandeering is more idiosyncratic, where motives aren’t immediately clear, he said.

Some counterterrorism officials say that could be the case with the Malaysian flight, he said. “The plane could have been commandeered,” according to Bergen.

“The plane could have been commandeered,” Bergen said.

Commandeered flights predate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, he said.

For example, in 1994, the cargo plane FedEx Flight 705 was commandeered by an employee with a hammer and spear gun who burst into the cockpit and wanted to crash the plane into FedEx’s Memphis, Tennessee, headquarters. The crew thwarted that takeover attempt.

In 2000, a passenger with a suspected history of mental illness commandeered British Airways Flight 2069 between London and Nairobi, Kenya, and put the plane carrying 300 passengers into a nosedive until the crew subdued him.

“So commandeering would fit with the few facts that we do know and certainly a theory that we haven’t heard a lot of that isn’t a conspiracy,” Bergen said.

Pilots, passengers of flight under scrutiny

SPECULATION: HIJACKING

The evidence for it:

The political motivation for a hijacking, however, would be as mysterious as the plane’s whereabouts.

“If you are dealing with hijackers on board the aircraft, whether it was an organized gang, or whether it was some psychologically disturbed individual that … managed to gain access to the flight, they can neutralize the crew,” said Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International.

“But then again, there wouldn’t necessarily be any communication at all – as we witnessed on September 11th,” Baum added, referring to the 2001 terrorist attacks. “If there was an explosive decompression, if a bomb detonated on board the aircraft, then again there would be no communication.”

The evidence against it:

Still, the absence of a claim of responsibility doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrorism. “There might be another reason for them not coming forward at this point,” said Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director of the FBI. “If it was a terrorist incident … if this was part of a much larger or broader potential act, and for whatever reason, they wouldn’t come forward at this point, but at a later time.”

SPECULATION: MECHANICAL FAILURE

The evidence for it:

Perhaps it was an electrical failure.

It’s possible, though pilots have trouble embracing the thought.

“I’ve been running that in my brain now ever since this thing happened,” said Jim Tilmon, an aviation expert and retired American Airlines pilot.

The possibility of electrical failure is improbable, but not impossible, according to Jim Tilmon, an aviation expert and retired American Airlines pilot. It “is very, very hard to imagine” because the Boeing jet has so many generators aboard, he said.

“If all the engine generators fail, they still have what’s called the RAT (ram air turbine). That’s the generator that literally falls out of the bottom of the airplane, has a propeller on it, and ram-air turns that and gives them generating power enough to go ahead and fly the airplane safely.

“Electrical failure – it’d have to be total … absolutely incredible, like we’ve not heard of before,” Tilmon said.

Could flight have slipped by radar?

SPECULATION: THE BIZARRE

Unconstrained by the professional accountability under which the experts labor, some Internet users have offered their own blue-sky theories:

A meteor struck the plane.

Some country’s military shot it down:

The evidence for it:

Aliens abducted the plane.

The evidence for it:

“Everybody wants to get a handle on something right now,” former Federal Aviation Administration investigator David Soucie said of the myriad theories. “No one has an answer, so they’re going to try to put one on it. So that creates all kinds of assumptions.”

CNN’s Wen-Chun Fan, Thom Patterson and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.