Among the myriad theories of what happened to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is one which places the plane at the bottom of the ocean just off a tiny Maldives island in the Indian Ocean.
It is, or at least was a persuasive theory, given the convincing testimony of a handful of eye-witnesses on Kuda Huvadhoo, who claimed to have seen a “low-flying jumbo jet” distinctive by its red and blue livery – the colours of Malaysia Airlines – on the morning of 8 March 2014.
The claims came to light in the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of the plane and all 239 souls on board and were revisited by the Western Australian in April amid suggestions these potential observers had not been taken seriously.
But the head of the country’s civil aviation authority Ibrahim Faizal has apparently poured cold water on the hypothesis, telling The Australian: “I wanted to revisit it because I did not have all the information for me to make a call on it, hence why I had another look at this thing again.
“I was not personally happy or satisfied at the time over what had happened [with the official review of the witness accounts.]
“To be honest, now I have no reason to believe that it’s the MH flight. I am more firm in my conviction after speaking to the island council now. This whole issue was confused by other matters like the sighting of a fire extinguisher – we found that this is not from any aircraft, let alone a B777.
“I am convinced now, given all the information and data we have, that it was not the MH but most likely the Island Aviation Bombardier Dash 8.”
The fire extinguisher Faizal speaks of to has been referenced before – by former Proteus Airlines boss Marc Dugain who has suggested the plane was shot down by the United States after being remotely hacked – and cites some of the islanders’ accounts in his findings.
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.
“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.”
Incidentally, a British woman named Katherine Tee believes she saw a plane on fire crossing the night sky as she sailed across the Indian Ocean with her husband.
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 Maldives islanders’ accounts seemed to have been supported by accounts of an underwater sound signal, which some scientists believe could have been caused by the aircraft.
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.”
In April 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.”