The Missing Airplane: 35% of Americans Blame Mechanical Problems; 22% Say Suicide; 12% Think It's Terrorism; 9% Believe Flight 370 Is Hiding

Polling Americans about the fate of Flight 370.


CNN and other outlets have aired some pretty strange speculations about the fate of Flight 370, prompting a lot of complaints from media critics. But how popular are those theories with the general public? The latest Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans what they think happened to the missing plane. Here are the results:

We forgot to mention the "gremlin on the wing" option.
The Twilight Zone

Which of the following do you think most likely happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

• It crashed due to mechanical problems: 35 percent
• It was crashed intentionally by the pilots: 22 percent
• It was destroyed by terrorists: 12 percent
• It landed safely and is in hiding: 9 percent
• It's linked to supernatural or alien activity: 5 percent
• It was shot down by a foreign government: 3 percent
• Other: 4 percent
• Don't know: 9 percent
• Refused to answer: 1 percent

Some thoughts:

1. Broadly speaking, "conspiracy" narratives seem to be popular. The answer invoking terrorists is clearly a conspiracy story, and the answers involving a deliberate crash, a foreign government, a plane in hiding, and supernatural or alien intervention can at least conceivably involve conspiracies too.

2. That said: Of the options offered, it's the one clearly non-conspiratorial story that got a plurality of the support.

3. A certain number of respondents, presented with an option like "It's linked to supernatural or alien activity," are going to select that just to screw with the results. I don't know how big that phenomenon—call it the Troll Effect—might be, but having gone through the answers that were volunteered by the folks who picked "Other," it's clear that there's at least a few people out there who are messing with us. One person said "All of the Above."

Who wants pie?

4. Whatever Americans may believe about what happened to the plane, most of us have kept our heads when it comes to letting this rare event affect our risk assessment. Here's one more question from the survey:

Would you say the events surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 make you more likely to fly, less likely, or doesn't it have much effect on whether or not you will fly?

• More likely: 1 percent
• Less likely: 17 percent
• Not much effect: 81 percent

For further thoughts, see my article "The Flight 370 Conspiracy Stories Aren't About to Stop." For more on conspiracy theories in general, see my book The United States of Paranoia.

NEXT: Vid: Americans Believe Most Politicians Abuse Their Power - Reason-Rupe Poll April 2014

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I say it got hung up in the wires that hold up the clouds.

  2. Don’t know: 9 percent

    Considering that this is the correct answer, I am almost tempted to be discouraged by the overwhelming number of people who engage in idle speculation without sufficient evidence.

    But then I remember that the only thing dumber than polls are people who put stock in their results, and happily go about my day.

    1. Take that back. Emily’s going to be heartbroken.

  3. What percentage are tired of seeing non-stop, around the clock coverage, headline coverage of this story? I know it’s at least 0.0000003%.

  4. I still think that the plane is sitting on a remote taxiway at the airport because the tower forgot about it.

  5. My boyfriends is a proponent of theory that it was stolen by theives in a dramatic heist.

    Under this theory everyone on board is probably dead, and they are trying to sell it to international arms dealers, or something like that.

    1. I think you mean your boyfriends are proponents of theory that…

    2. That would be like trying to sell a stolen Mona Lisa, only 500,000 pounds harder.

      1. Not really – all they have to do is remove the identifying information.

        TBS, it would probably be easier to steal one that was parked on a layover. The theives would simply have to forge the access passes (or bribe a legitimate crew to steal one for them).

        “Hello, Tower. This is N – SHT. We need to reposition this plane to DFW for a special charter. May we have a takeoff clearance?”

      2. That was my reply too, pretty much.
        How many airports in the world could you fly this thing into without risking identificaton? Not many.
        I don’t think filing off the serial numbers would help.

        1. and Aresen, do you think there is just one identifying ‘serial number’ at the base of the windshield of the plane? 🙂

    3. My boyfriend is a proponent of the theory that it was stolen by thieves in a dramatic heist.

      Why not make it easier by going after one configured as a cargo plane? Not having to deal with passengers would reduce the complications of the heist by at least half.

      1. Perhaps they intend to sell it to international humans traffickers.

    4. All of your boyfriends came up with this theory independently, or did you causally drop it to each one individually?

  6. This is both discouraging and encouraging at the same time.

    Scary that more people believe it was aliens/supernatural activity than thought it might have been shot down.

    The good news is, the majority are rational enough to go with the most likely scenario.

    Based on what I think I know, I’d give it a 90% probability of being an accident.

  7. I’m surprised no one suggested that it was pulled out of the sky by a giant magnetic anomaly/smoke monster/ghost…wait a minute, now I’m confused about what the whole f-ing point was again. Damn it.

    1. Wow, you covered 6 seasons of Lost in about 40 words. Good job!

  8. ? Other: 4 percent
    ? Don’t know: 9 percent
    ? Refused to answer: 1 percent

    Which one includes those who said “don’t care”? Were they separated from those who went with the longer “Don’t know, don’t care”?

  9. I’m sticking with my theory that it was Chinese Bavarian Illuminati Space Aliens trying to cover up their role in the JFK assassination which was carried out because JFK was about to ban vaccines to prevent autism.

    1. So you’re saying autism is part of the alien invasion plot? Are they sleeper agents, or are they trying to remove our ability to fight back? OR are they actually superhumans with latent powers being created by a secret alien rebel force? Wait, are we now drifting into X-Files story arcs? DAMN IT!

      1. Or was that The 4400? OMG THEY WERE ABDUCTED BY THE FUTURE!!!



        1. The langoliers are coming.

      2. So you’re saying autism is part of the alien invasion plot?

        Yes. Because Space Aliens have the dramatic range of Jonathan Frakes, increasing the number of people with autism makes it easier for them to blend in with the population.

  10. Is that wing gremlin wearing a suit?

  11. What about pilot error? That seems more plausible to me than any of those answers.

  12. As far as I know, they haven’t found one scrap of this plane yet. “Don’t know” is the only rational answer.

    1. Yeah, you know that and I know that, but don’t anyone tell Woof Blister about that… 🙂

      Until someone FINDS SOMETHING, all guesses are nothing more than guesses.


  13. Shatner looks like a young Albert Finney in that picture.

  14. I don’t buy the mechanical problem explanation. It’s hard to understand how it happened right after they left the Malaysian ATC area, then made all sorts of course and altitude changes, then flew for hours, all without giving any distress calls. I can’t conceive of a scenario in which the mechanical problem was severe enough to destroy their communication ability, yet allowed the plane to maneuver and fly for hours afterwards.

    1. Or, as a friend of mine put it… one of the cockpit crew locked the other out, disabled the emergency oxygen supply for everyone else, took the plane up to 40+ thousand feet and vented the cabin long enough to kill everyone.

      Then they pointed the plane at a US military installation on one of the Pacific islands in order to destroy it, but fighters were scrambled and blew the plane out of the sky before it could hit the installation.

      So, given all that, EVERYONE EVERYWHERE has one or more reasons to cover up the whole thing for a LONG TIME.

      And you read it here first!
      You’re welcome. This should go viral within about five hours, and Woof Blister will have a special ‘report’ on it.


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.