Mathematician: Missing MH370 plunged vertically into ocean

Updated 2:56 PM EDT, Thu July 30, 2015
vause intv diehl mh370_00002427.jpg
vause intv diehl mh370_00002427.jpg
Now playing
02:18
Mathematician has new theory about MH370 crash
MH370 disappearance search mobile orig_00010530.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
MH370 disappearance search mobile orig_00010530.jpg
Now playing
01:11
The search for MH370
Searchers looking for MH370 take an image of a new shipwreck discovered in the course of the search.
PHOTO: ATSB/ATSB
Searchers looking for MH370 take an image of a new shipwreck discovered in the course of the search.
Now playing
00:57
MH370 searchers find uncharted shipwreck
In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, The Bluefin 21, Artemis autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is hoisted back on board the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield after successful buoyancy testing April 1, 2014 in the Indian Ocean. Joint Task Force 658 is currently supporting Operation Southern Indian Ocean, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The airliner disappeared on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board and is suspected to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/U.S. Navy via Getty
PHOTO: Peter D. Blair/U.S. Navy/Getty Images
In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, The Bluefin 21, Artemis autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is hoisted back on board the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield after successful buoyancy testing April 1, 2014 in the Indian Ocean. Joint Task Force 658 is currently supporting Operation Southern Indian Ocean, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The airliner disappeared on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board and is suspected to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/U.S. Navy via Getty
Now playing
01:07
Drone sub searches for Flight MH370
PHOTO: Geoscience Australia
Now playing
01:01
New video key in MH370 search?
File photo: The missing Malaysia Airlines 777 airliner, photographed in Australia in 2010.
PHOTO: Courtesy Ignatius Kwee
File photo: The missing Malaysia Airlines 777 airliner, photographed in Australia in 2010.
Now playing
01:18
New report suggests deliberate act in MH370 cockpit
mh370 cleaning for clues reunion mclaughlin pkg_00000306.jpg
mh370 cleaning for clues reunion mclaughlin pkg_00000306.jpg
Now playing
01:40
MH370 debris search continues on Reunion Island
Able Seaman Marine Technician Trent Goodman keeps lookout onboard HMAS SUCCESS whilst the ship is deployed in search of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. *** Local Caption *** Joint Task Force 658 has been established by the ADF to coordinate supporting military forces engaged in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Under the name Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN, ADF assets from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have joined the search for debris, recovery and investigation of the missing flight.
PHOTO: Commonwealth of Australia
Able Seaman Marine Technician Trent Goodman keeps lookout onboard HMAS SUCCESS whilst the ship is deployed in search of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. *** Local Caption *** Joint Task Force 658 has been established by the ADF to coordinate supporting military forces engaged in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Under the name Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN, ADF assets from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have joined the search for debris, recovery and investigation of the missing flight.
Now playing
02:00
Report: MH370 searchers looking in wrong zone
mh370 two years later quest pkg_00001028.jpg
mh370 two years later quest pkg_00001028.jpg
Now playing
02:37
MH370: Two years later
mh370 families react to pilot simulation route andrew stevens pkg_00001404.jpg
mh370 families react to pilot simulation route andrew stevens pkg_00001404.jpg
Now playing
02:45
Families react to possible suicide route for MH370
The pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are Forst Officer Gambar Fariq Abdul Hamid, left, and Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah at right.
The pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are Forst Officer Gambar Fariq Abdul Hamid, left, and Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah at right.
Now playing
03:03
Who were the pilots flying Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?
A Mozambican official told CNN the plane part, measuring 35 inches by 22 inches, was discovered by an American tourist, Blaine Gibson, and a local fisherman on a sandbank in Mozambique.
PHOTO: Blaine Gibson
A Mozambican official told CNN the plane part, measuring 35 inches by 22 inches, was discovered by an American tourist, Blaine Gibson, and a local fisherman on a sandbank in Mozambique.
Now playing
03:22
Video shows possible MH370 debris found
BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 07: Chinese relatives of passengers missing on Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 cry as they kneel in front of the media outside the Malaysian Embassy during a protest by relatives on August 7, 2015 in Beijing, China. France expanded its search for debris off Reunion Island Friday a day after Malaysia
PHOTO: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 07: Chinese relatives of passengers missing on Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 cry as they kneel in front of the media outside the Malaysian Embassy during a protest by relatives on August 7, 2015 in Beijing, China. France expanded its search for debris off Reunion Island Friday a day after Malaysia's prime minister announced that a piece of wing discovered last week is from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 which vanished last year. Officials and experts from other countries including the United States and Australia have been more cautious, saying that more investigating needs to be done. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:13
Chinese MH370 families demand certainty, closure
pkg molko inside air traffic control mh370_00001803.jpg
pkg molko inside air traffic control mh370_00001803.jpg
Now playing
02:52
Inside the tower: Tracking down a missing flight
Able Seaman Marine Technician Trent Goodman keeps lookout onboard HMAS SUCCESS whilst the ship is deployed in search of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. *** Local Caption *** Joint Task Force 658 has been established by the ADF to coordinate supporting military forces engaged in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Under the name Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN, ADF assets from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have joined the search for debris, recovery and investigation of the missing flight.
PHOTO: Commonwealth of Australia
Able Seaman Marine Technician Trent Goodman keeps lookout onboard HMAS SUCCESS whilst the ship is deployed in search of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. *** Local Caption *** Joint Task Force 658 has been established by the ADF to coordinate supporting military forces engaged in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Under the name Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN, ADF assets from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have joined the search for debris, recovery and investigation of the missing flight.
Now playing
02:43
Search for flight MH370 suspended
mh370 pilot simulation rivers lok_00005511.jpg
PHOTO: Zaharie Shah
mh370 pilot simulation rivers lok_00005511.jpg
Now playing
03:13
Speculation continues about why MH370 disappeared

Story highlights

New theory from mathematician explains lack of debris

Other experts say the crew may have become incapacitated

If the pilot caused a crash, experts say it could have been suicide

(CNN) —  

It has been 15 months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing did an unexplained about-face, flew in the wrong direction and disappeared without a trace with 239 souls on board. In the absence of physical evidence, theories on what happened to the plane continue to proliferate: The crew passed out. It was pilot suicide. Or was it a paranormal event?

Now comes the latest contribution to the debate: This week, a mathematician from Texas A&M University announced that he had run data through a computer and determined it was likely the plane had plunged vertically into the ocean.

Goong Chen, using “applied mathematics, computational fluid dynamics and numerical simulations of a Boeing 777 in a classic ‘water entry’ problem,” determined that a plane that piercing vertically into the sea would not break apart.

Simply put, a plane hitting the water at an angle would scatter its parts across the surface of the water. But one hitting at a near-vertical angle would shoot into the water with minimal damage and zoom straight to the bottom.

Never mind that the Indian Ocean is more than seven times the size of the United States – a rather large area to search. The theory of the vertical dive, said Chen and his colleagues, explains why no debris has been found. The study was published in the April 2015 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

Chen offers no theories on why the plane might have been in a vertical descent. And he does offer a caveat.

“The true final moments of MH370 are likely to remain a mystery until someday when its black box is finally recovered and decoded,” he writes.

But that has not stopped theories to sprout like weeds in an untended garden. Among those that have been circulated:

Theory: Ghost or zombie plane

Some speculation has centered on the so-called “zombie theory” advanced by aviation specialist Clive Irving of The Daily Beast.

A ghost plane is one where everyone aboard – pilots, crew, passengers – loses consciousness because of a loss of pressurization, an explosion, smoke or fumes.

Under this supposition, the Malaysia plane continued to fly for hours on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

In 1999, a Lear jet carrying professional golfer Payne Stewart and four others crashed in South Dakota after flying on its own for four hours. All aboard had died when the cabin lost pressure.

“I think in the first few minutes of this emergency, the pilots had to change course because they were looking for an emergency airport,” Irving said about the Malaysian flight. “They were at some point overtaken by whatever it was, smoke, fire, or some kind of problem. And the plane was then left to fly itself after it had been programmed to go on that course.”

The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: What you need to know

CNN aviation analyst Les Abend considers the thesis “very viable.”

“It can happen insidiously if it’s a slow situation,” Abend said. “But my scenario is a smoldering fire that created smoke and once that smoke began the crew donned their oxygen masks.”

The plane’s captain may have “realized it was compelling enough to get the airplane turned and entered a waypoint that was an alternate airport in the flight management computer and kept the autopilot connected because this plane is designed, especially in an emergency situation to reduce workload,” Abend said.

Theory: Incapacitated crew

The crew may have become incapacitated and unable to land the plane, said former pilot Alastair Rosenschein, causing the plane to crash in the south Indian Ocean, where numerous searches have taken place.

With the crew incapacitated, none of the passengers would have had the ability to control the plane or issue a distress call.

If the plane ran out of fuel while on autopilot, the landing at sea would have the same path as one on land, said Mitchell Casado, a Boeing 777 pilot trainer.

For MH370 families, hope hangs by a thread after Reunion discovery

“It’s not going to be any dramatic nose down or turning or anything like that. It’s just going to be a very gentle, gradual descent – very similar, actually, to what you would experience in a regular flight,” Casado said. “Just a very gradual descent but constant until you hit the ground.”

Theory: Terrorism

Malaysian military radar registered dramatic altitude changes for Flight 370 – rising to 45,000 feet and then descending to 23,000 feet – as it moved across Malaysia, according to a senior U.S. official.

The official cautioned that the readings are not believed entirely accurate. Still, analysts surmise causes for the altitude changes.

“Some of the flight profile changes might suggest that the flight was commandeered,” said Robert Goyer, editor-in-chief of Flying magazine and a commercial jet-rated pilot. “Was it by one of the pilots or by an intruder? It would be more likely that it was … by one of the pilots.”

Theory: Pilot heroism or suicide?

Inevitably, attention turns to whether the pilot or co-pilot tried to destroy the aircraft. Those theories can only grow more insistent in the wake of the crash of a Germanwings plane in the French alps earlier this year, in which the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, is believed to have downed the plane deliberately in a mass murder-suicide.

Among the disturbing circumstances of MH370’s disappearance is that its transponder and communication systems were off shortly after takeoff.

Some experts have advanced the possibility that the pilots or crew were bent on the annihilation of everyone aboard the plane.

Lives, not numbers: Snapshots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 passengers

“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.

Theories: The bizarre

Some Internet users have ventured into the bizarre and paranormal.

Some assert a meteor struck the plane. But the astronomical odds against such an event are high, to put it mildly.

Lisa Williams, a psychic in California, said she believed the plane went down somewhere with its passengers still alive, though she doesn’t have proof.

“I do believe that it actually crashed and I see a lot of trees … ” Williams said. “I also believe there was a hijacking.”

But Abend, the aviation analyst, dismissed Williams’ speculation.

“With(out) disparaging Lisa’s profession, I mean, listen, I’m an airline pilot. I deal in black and white,” Abend said. “It’s difficult for me to, in this particular circumstance, to think that a psychic could solve a problem that people all over the world are not able to solve at this point.”

Underwater search for MH370 could end next year

Complete coverage of MH370

CNN’s Tom Watkins and Matt Smith contributed to this report.