7 Crazy (And Not So Crazy) Theories on What Happened to Flight 370

The mystery has spawned hundreds of theories, some very far-fetched.

UPDATE: This is a fast-moving story and as of Saturday morning, the Malaysian government has concluded that Flight 370 was hijacked. This is also the consensus of aviation and security experts. However, many legitimate questions persist and conspiracy theories continue to proliferate.

Since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished from the sky en route to Beijing on Saturday, March 8, international speculation has been rampant, to say the least. Radar search parties are scanning the oceans and relatives of the 239 passengers and crew on board the flight are making anguished pleas for more and better information. The vacuum created by the mystery has fueled some wild theories and rumors about what happened to the jet. John Brennan, the director of the CIA, says, "I think you cannot discount any theory," so everyone with a story is sticking to it. Here are some of the most prevalent theories.

1. The plane was hijacked by terrorists. This theory, the first, was fueled by the fact that two passengers aboard the jet, Iranian nationals, were traveling with stolen passports. Early news reports had the two passengers connected to the Chinese Martyr's Brigade, a shadowy group that claimed it was behind the jet's disappearance. That part of the rumor has already been proven to be a hoax. As part of the terrorist hijack theory, some reports have suggested that terrorists hijacked the 100-ton plane and have hidden it somewhere intact with all radio devices turned off to avoid detection. The fact that the cell phones of passengers have rung, according to relatives, has only added fuel to that rumor.

As of Friday, the latest in the investigation focused on suspicion of foul play, as evidence suggests the Boeing 777-200ER jet flew hundreds of miles off course, perhaps deliberately. Various bloggers still believe it is hidden in either Asia or Africa and there are plans to use it as a 9/11-style bomb. Some believe that the pilot or co-pilot (or both) are behind the plot. Others believe that Muslim passengers commandeered the plane and ordered the transponder turned off. However, it would take a very long runway (at least 8,000 feet) to handle a wide-body airplane like a Boeing 777, and many aviation and security experts say there are no known runways where the plane could have landed undetected.

2. The plane disintegrated. News reports have quoted a "source" involved in the investigations in Malaysia as saying the plane is likely to have disintegrated at an altitude of 35,000 feet. But aviation experts have countered that even if the plane had disintegrated, there would have been debris detectable by radar. On Friday, CNN was reporting that the plane's lithium batteries— or even laptop batteries carried in the cargo hold — may have exploded, another angle to the explosion theory.

3. The plane was blown up by Mossad. The satirical website, NoDisinfo.com, which specializes in publishing outlandish conspiracy theories, posted an article Monday claiming that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad sabotaged the Malaysia Airlines flight. Soon afterward the article was linked to from social media sites, with many believing it was a genuine news item. Later, variations of the article surfaced on the Internet, replacing the Mossad with the CIA. A variation on the theme said the U.S. intelligence agency blew up the plane as a warning to Russia not to attack Crimea.

4. The pilot committed suicide and took the passengers with him. The pilot of the plane switched off the plane's tracking device before deliberately crashing the plane in a still-undiscovered locale. It was this theory that sparked the CIA director's remark that no theory could be discounted, so this one remains alive.

5. The plane is “lost” on an island.The plane crashed on a remote, uncharted island, much like the one in the television series "Lost." This theory remains alive, as Reuters reported that the plane may have landed on an island chain off the Indian Ocean. This theory also got some legs when some families of the passengers claimed that the phones of their missing relatives were ringing hours after the plane went missing.

6. The plane was abducted by aliens. What's a mystery without an alien abduction angle? The twitterati have ramped up this rumor as each day brings investigators no closer to finding the plane. Aliens have taken the plane and parked it in a space worm hole, the latest E.T. theories speculate. Alexandra Bruce at ForbiddenKnowledgeTV cites the flight mapping websiteFlightradar24 to back her theory of alien abduction. She believes that strange “captured signals” logged on that website could only come from an unidentified flying object. 

7. The plane landed in the Bermuda Triangle.One viral rumor circulating on social media purports to be breaking news from CNN, but reads like a Weekly World News Headline. A photo shows an airplane in the water with this caption: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 found in the Bermuda Triangle! Passengers Alive!" If you're one of the unsuspecting, interested readers who clicked on the link, however, you'd find no video, nothing but the usual survey that sucks your soul—all your Facebook information—in one click. The plane in the photo, as snopes.com pointed out, is actually a Lion Boeing 737 that crashed into the sea in Bali in April 2013 (with no fatalities).

Evelyn Nieves is a senior contributing writer and editor at AlterNet, living in San Francisco. She has been a reporter for both the New York Times and the Washington Post.