The most dangerous parts of a flight are takeoff and landing.
Rarely do incidents happen when a plane is cruising seven miles (11km) above the earth.
Some of the possible causes for the plane disappearing include:
* A catastrophic structural failure: Most aircraft are made of aluminum which is susceptible to corrosion over time, especially in areas of high humidity. But given the plane’s long history and impressive safety record, experts suggest a failure of the airframe, or the Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines, is unlikely.
* Bad weather: Planes are designed to fly through most severe storms. However, in June 2009, an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed during a bad storm over the Atlantic Ocean. Ice built up on the Airbus A330’s airspeed indicators, giving false readings. That, and bad decisions by the pilots, led the plane into a stall causing it to plummet into the sea. All 228 passengers and crew aboard died. The pilots never radioed for help.
* Pilot disorientation: The pilots could have taken the plane off autopilot and somehow went off course and didn’t realise it until it was too late. The plane could have flown for another five or six hours from its point of last contact, putting it up to 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) away. This is unlikely given that the plane probably would have been picked up by radar somewhere.
* Failure of both engines: In January 2008, a British Airways 777 crashed about 1,000 feet (300 meters) short of the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport. As the plane was coming in to land, the engines lost thrust because of ice buildup in the fuel system.
Loss of both engines is possible in this case, but the plane could glide for up to 20 minutes, giving pilots plenty of time to make an emergency call.
* A bomb: Several planes have been brought down including Pan Am Flight 103 between London and New York in December 1988.
* Hijacking: A traditional hijacking seems unlikely given that a plane’s captors typically land at an airport and have some demands.
* Pilot suicide: There were two large jet crashes in the late 1990s — a SilkAir flight and an EgyptAir flight— believed to have been caused by pilots deliberately crashing the planes.
* Accidental shoot-down: There have been incidents when a country’s military unintentionally shot down civilian aircraft.
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