Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, prompting a widespread search effort and global concern. In the wake of the tragedy, a number of theories began surfacing online, as people tried to explain the mysterious disappearance. After the release of a new Netflix documentary on the topic in mid-February, some of these theories have resurfaced, including several misleading videos. The FRANCE 24 Observers team took a closer look at two of them which are circulating widely on TikTok.
If you only have a minute:
- A video seen on TikTok more than 5 million times claims to show the location of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, by zooming into a location on Google Earth. It is in fact a satellite image showing a plane flying over Thailand.
- Another video on TikTok with over 1.3 million views claims to show Flight MH370 surrounded by three spherical objects before disappearing. The origin of the video is unrelated to the flight, however, and graphic analysis indicates that it was edited.
The Netflix documentary series delving into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the tragic fate of its 239 passengers and crew has stirred up a great deal of controversy since its release. Despite garnering widespread attention, the series has come under fire from a number of aviation experts who accuse it of propagating unfounded conspiracy theories. These controversial claims include the suggestion that the flight was hijacked by either American aircraft or Russian operatives, sparking a fierce debate over the accuracy and credibility of the series’ content.
The documentary’s release has reignited the debate over what happened to the Boeing 777, prompting many people to begin sharing their theories online. Two videos claiming to provide evidence of the circumstances of the plane’s disappearance have since been shared on TikTok.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 found on Google Earth?
One video has been viewed over 5 million times on TikTok after a user asked for help finding “Malaysia plane MH370 at Diego Garcia that has been hijack for 9 years now [sic]”.
The question brings up two well-known theories about the airplane: that it was shot down near the British island of Diego Garcia, which is home to a US military base, and the idea that the plane was hijacked. Neither of these explanations is corroborated by the official investigation.
This video was archived here by the FRANCE 24 Observers.
In the video, we see a zoom into a location on Google Earth. However, this zoom doesn’t show the Diego Garcia base, but rather the southwest of Thailand. We were able to find the same image shown in the video by zooming into the same location. And there is indeed a plane pictured there.
But there’s an important detail: the satellite images taken at this location are dated March 5, 2018. In images taken before and after this date, on March 3, 2018 and in March 2020, the plane is not visible.
Plus, there are no reports of a plane crash in this part of Thailand in March 2018.
A ‘ghost image’ taken by satellite cameras
So why is there a plane in the middle of this forest? The answer is simple: it was flying over Thailand the moment this satellite image was taken.
We contacted Google’s press team who sent us this article explaining why mysterious optical illusions sometimes show up in satellite images.
The article contains an interview with Matt Manolides, Google’s geo data strategist. It explains:
The way the images are collected can create optical illusions.
Because the satellite cameras take multiple pictures at the same time, but in different color spectrums, a fast-moving object, like a plane, can look strange, like several identical but differently colored planes flying over each other.
The “rainbow” halo visible around the plane is indeed typical of what satellite imagery specialists call a “ghost image”. This phenomenon appears when several layers of satellite photos are superimposed on each other while a plane has been photographed in a given area. The phenomenon has already occurred in the past in Australia and Scotland, prompting many reactions from people who thought they had found an abandoned or even sinking aircraft.
How to be sure there’s no plane there?
To be sure that the presence of the plane is only due to random satellite photos taken during its flight, we contacted Sérgio Volkmer from the satellite image company Soar. He explained:
The main way to verify is to compare images of that same location on different dates. Get the coordinates, then on Soar.Earth recent imagery, put the coordinates and search. Select “satellites”: there are free and commercial. Alternate dates to see if it matches with events.
[There is] no sign of a crash in the forest in both cases on different dates. But the main reason [to doubt this image] is that debris [of MH370] were found on the coast of Africa.
Comparison between the classic satellite image available in Google showing the plane in the forest in Thailand (left) and the NASA satellite image from March 6, 2018 (right). If a plane had crashed here on March 5, it would be visible behind the clouds.
The disappearance of MH370 caused by three mysterious orbs?
A video posted on TikTok with 1.5 million views as of March 23 claims to show exclusive footage documenting the disappearance of Flight MH370.
It shows thermal camera footage of a plane surrounded by three spherical shapes flying around it. After a few seconds, the three spheres collide with the aircraft, which instantly disappears.
A text read by an automated voice comments on the video in French: “Netflix releasing a documentary on flight MH370, but not even showing this video declassified by the FBI.” Other TikTok accounts posted another video showing the same scene, but filmed without a thermal camera effect here.
This video was archived here by the FRANCE 24 Observers.
A video on the Internet since 2014 without any mention of flight MH370
These videos are far from recent. They were published on YouTube in May and June 2014 by the account “RegicideAnon”, which has since been deleted. An archive of the first video can be seen here and the other is available here.
In the initial posts, the titles of both videos refer to “Airliner and UFOs”. No mention of flight MH370 is made in the captions of either video.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team showed the video to several specialists in UFO videos and online hoaxes. All three were familiar with this video and explain some indications that suggest it is fake.
Likely a graphic creation
Scott Brando, who founded UFO of Interest which is focused on debunking hoaxes about UFOs, told us that the video is likely a graphic creation. He even found a version of the video shared on Vimeo in August 2014 by a UFO enthusiast group. The description under the video describes it as “what the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have looked like” made by a “video editing enthusiast”.
Inconsistencies in the image and caption
Pascal Fechner of the collaborative media Maybe Planet told us the video is a “poor example of editing that wants to profit off the MH370 tragedy”.
The video mentions AWACs [radar planes designed to monitor a large airspace] filming this scene. This is a direct reference to a theory put forward by journalist Florence de Changy [Editor’s note: according to which the Americans deliberately jammed the communications of flight MH370 to prevent an arms shipment to China] but which has been refuted by those familiar with the case.
Secondly, if this video had been declassified [as the TikTok account claims], it would have been declassified by the Department of Defence or the Pentagon, not by the FBI. The FBI deals with internal US affairs. And if it had been declassified, it would have long since made the rounds of the entire ufology world, and the major American media. This is not the case.
Other incoherent details
Janne Ahlberg of HoaxEye also saw the video making the rounds and carried out his own investigation.
I downloaded a higher resolution copy of the first video, alleged satellite footage with some letters and numbers half-visible on the screen. I’m pretty sure the video maker wanted viewers to believe the satellite is NROL-33 based on what we can see on that clip. I checked the letters/numbers using 10-20x magnification and went through the footage frame-by-frame.
NROL-33 is a real military satellite, but it was launched on May 22, 2014 – later than MH370 incident. So if the video maker wanted viewers to believe the footage is from NROL-33 satellite, it can’t be true.
I can’t find any satellite imagery that would match what we see in the first clip. I think no satellite can’t take that kind of images of an airplane. Shortly: I’m fairly certain this video is not from any satellite like the original video claims.
Despite several indications that the video is fake and edited, it’s still circulating in 2023. But, according to HoaxEye, the narratives surround the video have changed too much to give it any credibility.
Later copies […] have edited the clip so that the “mystery coordinates” are not visible. I found only one copy where the “coordinates” can be seen. Later copies don’t talk about satellite video but suggest it’s drone footage. That’s not plausible either: MQ1-Predator max altitude is 25,000 ft, much lower than the MH370 cruising altitude.
Some say video was shot from ground level which would make more sense because it does look like viewpoint is at lower altitude. But then all these later claims are contradicting the original video caption about satellite video (which is false). It seems people changed the narrative around video 1 because they realised the satellite story can’t be true.
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