Where's the haystack to find this needle?
March 26, 2014 | Almost three weeks ago, a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went mysteriously missing.
The disappearance of this plane is, of course, a great tragedy for those onboard and their families. But the reaction has been nothing short of comedy.
Sensing a ratings opportunity, the cable networks went into breathless coverage filling hours of airtime with — nothing. There was literally nothing to report, but that didn't stop the talking heads.
Everyone had a theory based on no facts whatsoever. What makes this disappearance so compelling is that there were very few facts and absolutely no logic that supports any hypothesis about what happened with the plane. The Malasian government didn't help by concealing some things and changing some "facts" after further review.
To be fair, the investigation began in a reasonable way, by looking along the projected flight path of the plane. It was only later — much later — that additional information emerged to indicate that the plane apparently did not go that way at all.
In the absence of anything concrete, frustration grew and guessing was the name of the game.
Most of the people on the plane were Chinese, and their families were understandably distraught. But what they did made no sense at all. A large contingent of them flew off to Kuala Lumpur to demand that Malasia and the airline tell them — right now! — what happened to the plane and where their relatives were. Some were so disruptive that they were removed forcibly from a press conference, giving the world photos of anguish personified. Others protested at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing. The simple fact that no one knew anything to tell them was completely ignored. In our modern world, the idea that something is unknown and maybe unknowable is no longer acceptable. We must have answers, and we must have them now! Everything must be immediately explained, and if we don't like the explanation we are given we claim that the answer is being hidden from us.
As for what happened to the plane, there are few things we know (see timeline at right) and there is no way to explain them. What's clear is that the plane flew for several hours after contact was lost and it flew far off-course for this route. The flight path had several turns and changes in altitude that suggest that someone was in control of the aircraft for at least some of the time.
The catastrophic event theory. Something horrible happened, say a fire, that disabled the communications systems. But it would have to be a very selective disaster to only take out the transponder and ACARS systems, leaving the autopilot to take the plane in a direct flight path for several hours at the end of its flight. Maybe there was sudden or gradual (the boiling frog scenario) decompression that killed everyone. This has the advantage of being somewhat plausible, but leaves so many questions. I mean, how long does it take to shout "Mayday! Mayday!" even if you're slightly disoriented.
The pilot suicide theory. Pilots have been known to use their plane to commit suicide. But if the pilot were going to do that, why wouldn't he just crash the plane into the ground or sea and get it over with, rather than fly for seven hours and let the plane crash when it ran out of fuel?
The hijack theory. Someone on the plane, a passenger or one of the crew, forcibly took over the plane and made it go off-course. But hijackers want to go somewhere or want something so they would have taken the plane somewhere to land or used the communications system to make demands. If they wanted to commit suicide, why would they make the plane fly for over seven hours? In the last voice transmission from the plane there was absolutely nothing that indicated anything was wrong or could be interpreted that way. And if they were suicide terrorists trying to shock and intimidate the world, they would make sure everyone knew about it.
Search efforts are now focused on the south Indian Ocean off Australia where various satellites have picked up what appears to be floating debris. Unfortunately, that part of the Indian Ocean is subject to bad weather, vicious currents, and ferocious winds; moreover it is a 4-hour flight from Australia so there is precious little time for aircraft to actually search. And, even if they can verify that the debris is from an aircraft, not just some flotsam from a cargo ship, that will do nothing to explain what happened. What will be needed for that is access to the plane's "black box" which could be hundreds of miles from where the debris currently is.
Flight MH370 remains a mystery. And it may remain a mystery forever. Deal with it.
Last updated on May 12, 2016