MH370 phones ringing

Phantom cell phone theory: Why MH370 passengers’ mobiles still rang after plane was lost

Families claimed they heard a dial tone multiple times

After Netflix released MH370: The Plane That Disappeared this month, everyone has even more questions about the 2014 disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight, which was carrying 239 people. One of the main ones being: If the plane crashed into the ocean? Why are passengers’ phones still ringing?

Yup. As detailed in the documentary by numerous family members, when loved ones tried to call the people on board MH370 after the plane vanished, they eerily heard a dial tone over and over again. But nobody ever picked up. And speculation has mounted on social media this means the plane never crashed after all.

In total, 19 families have claimed the phones of their missing loved ones rang without answer for four days after MH370 disappeared. One woman even went on Chinese TV to prove to the public her brother’s phone was still ringing after the plane had allegedly vanished.

Commenting on the “phantom calls”, one telecommunications expert Paul Franks claimed: “If the plane had crashed into the Indian Ocean, there is no way the phones would still ring. As soon as a phone is submerged in water, especially sea water, it dies.”

But that’s not the only running theory about the disconnected calls:

So, why were passengers’ phones still ringing?

After families reported they could still hear a dial tone when calling their relatives on flight MH370, people speculated this meant the passengers were still alive and dubbed the phenomenon the “phantom cellphone theory”.

But wireless analysts have said a dial tone doesn’t necessarily mean anything. According to reports from The Daily Star in 2018, the ringing tone families were hearing is just a psychological trick used internationally to keep callers waiting while the network tries to connect.

“That does not mean the phone you are calling is ringing yet,” explained another wireless analyst, Jeff Kagan, to NBC News. “The network is searching for the phone. First based on where it last was, then it expands. Then if the network can’t find the phone, the call terminates.”

While the call is trying to connect, the phone you’re ringing could appear to be dialling for ages. But, on the  other end, it may not be ringing at all. Switched off phones, phones on airplane mode, and phones with no signal all might seem contactable while the network seeks a connection. But in reality they’re not reachable at all.

MH370: The Plane That Disappeared is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

All the theories about what happened to MH370 plane that mysteriously disappeared 

• From Instagram lives to DNA tests: A full timeline of Julia’s Madeleine McCann saga

• New thriller from the writer behind The Stranger and Stay Close coming to Netflix soon