The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 A1
Sometimes, planes go missing. Usually, if they do not arrive at their destination it is because of a verifiable incident such as a hijacking or a crash. The plane either arrives intact in a location it was not destined to fly to, or it crashes into the water or into land. The remains of the plane are found in those cases, and it can be determined whether there were any survivors. At that point, the real work begins – deciding what caused the plane to crash, or why and how it became vulnerable to hijacking. While those kinds of incidents (especially crashes) are the most common issues with planes that do not reach their destination safely, there are times when a plane simply disappears. It is rare, but not impossible, and it happened in March of 2014. As of the 4th of April, 2014, there were still few, if any, answers, and even more questions from the loved ones of the passengers and crew members who had been on the plane at the time of its disappearance.
Determining what happens to a plane that disappears is not always an easy task. Finding the landing site of the plane or the wreckage is important, but can be complicated by a number of issues. In the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the major complication is that the plane most likely crashed into a large area of open ocean. Finding the wreckage and debris is difficult when there is no land to search, and when planes and helicopters searching for the wreckage cannot get to the site or cannot remain at the site long because of the need to refuel. The lack of ability to search for longer periods of time means that something could very easily be overlooked or be just a little further outside of the area the searchers are studying. With that in mind, it is important to take a look at what could have happened to the plane based on the aircraft itself, the crew, and the passengers aboard.
The Plane A3
The aircraft itself is worth examining when it comes to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Flight 370. It is a Boeing 777-200ER, and was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared (Kaiman & Branigan, 2014 A4 ). While there was no correspondence from the cockpit that something went wrong with the plane itself, problems with the aircraft that led to its April 2014 status of "missing" cannot be ruled out. There could have been an engine failure or other problem that caused the plane to crash into the Indian Ocean, which is where it was presumed to have ended up. As of the 4th of April, 2014, there is no conclusive evidence that the plane either did or did not end up there as its final resting place. Planes can and do experience catastrophic failures that can cause them to crash, even if the pilot and crew do everything right. Given the number of planes that fly every day and the number of crashes that are seen, the odds of a crash or other significant problem are very low for passengers and crew members, even if they fly very frequently (Pearlman & Wu, 2014).
Despite this, something clearly happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It did not arrive at its destination, has not been located anywhere else, and none of the passengers or crew have been able to be contacted by loved ones, or have tried to contact friends or family (Pearlman & Wu, 2014). The idea that something happened to the plane itself cannot be ruled out, but there has not been any debris found. One would think that an aircraft that crashed and/or broke apart would leave a large trail of debris in the ocean that could be found. There should also be a "slick" produced by the oil and jet fuel that would have been expelled by the plane upon impact with the water. With none of that found, the mystery continues and it is difficult to believe that something happened to the plane. That is especially true when there was no indication from the pilot or crew that anything had gone amiss before all communication stopped.
The Pilot, Co-Pilot, and Crew A5
In the days and weeks that followed the disappearance of Flight 370, attention turned to the pilot, his co-pilot, and the rest of the crew. There was speculation that one or all of them may have conspired to take the plane, or may have been forced to do so against their will. The Malaysian government originally stated that the pilot had said goodnight to air traffic control, and that was the last correspondence he had with those on the ground. Later, the government changed that to state that the pilot actually said "Goodnight, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370," which they took to imply that the pilot might have been saying his goodbyes to the plane and all aboard it, instead of simply wishing air traffic control a good night (Murdoch, 2014). Since the story has changed, there is no real clarity on what the pilot actually said, or what his intent was when he said it. Without finding the pilot alive, that intent may never be known. Those who knew the pilot and other crew members, though, have insisted that they would not have hijacked the plane, and that there was no conspiracy to do so (Neuman, 2014).
The Malaysian government is still conducting an investigation into the pilot and crew as of the 4th of April, 2014. Computers and other items were taken from the homes of the pilot and some of the crew members shortly after the plane disappeared, but little else has been said about these items (Kaiman & Branigan, 2014). If anything has been found that ties any of the crew members to the disappearance of Flight 370, it has not been disclosed to the media or the general public. That does not mean much in and of itself, but is worth consideration because the government has been accused of not being transparent in its investigation. There is no clear discussion as to whether the pilot and the crew members are still (or ever were) considered suspects, or whether information was taken from their homes for some other reason. Without more information to go on, what role – if any – the pilot and crew played is very uncertain.
The Passengers A6
Another major focus after the plane disappeared was the passengers, because they were not all who they appeared to be. At least two of them had boarded the plane with incorrect identities based on stolen passports, which naturally raised red flags with officials once it was discovered (Kaiman & Branigan, 2014). The thinking was that the men, who were of Middle Eastern descent, were involved in some kind of terroristic activity, and that they had either brought the plane down or hijacked it. However, there was no evidence found that indicated either man was connected to any kind of terrorist group, and no groups came forward to claim responsibility for the disappearance of Flight 370. Additionally, it is important to consider that there was no evidence that the men with the stolen passports – or anyone else on the plane – engaged in any kind of activity once in the air that would affect the flight path and final destination of the aircraft. There is little to go on where the passengers are concerned.
One thing that is clear about the passengers is that they have loved ones who are still mourning them, and who do not have any closure because there is no conclusive proof of what has happened to the plane. The search is concentrated on a particular area in the Indian Ocean, but it is possible that searchers could be looking in the wrong spot (Neuman, 2014). Until the plane or its wreckage is found and there is conclusive proof of what happened to all the passengers and crew members, there will still be those who hold out hope that their loved ones are alive somewhere. If the plane had been hijacked, it could be possible that the passengers would still be living, although it would seem as though the hijackers would have made demands or otherwise reached out after some time had passed. Since that has not occurred, the idea that some of the passengers hijacked the plane has less credibility than it did in the past. It is still not an impossibility, but is looking much less likely.
As soon as the plane disappeared, speculation started. With daylight, the search also started. Since that time, the search area has shrunk, widened, shrunk again, and been changed several times. This is concerning, because it is now quite possible that searchers are looking somewhere that is not even remotely close to where the plane may have actually gone down. There is also still the possibility that the plane landed somewhere else and has been hidden since that time. While it is not easy to hide a commercial aircraft of that size, it is not completely impossible to do so, either. Most have agreed that the plane did not land, and that continuing along that thought path is not going to be successful for anyone involved. However, there are plenty of considerations to address with where the plane may have gone down. Despite the fact that the search has now been limited to a specific area of the Indian Ocean, there is little to prove that is where the plane actually went down (Kaiman & Branigan, 2014). Since there is not much true information on which to base the search, it has not been successful.
It seems unlikely that there would be no debris at all from a 777 hitting the water and sinking, but searchers are also being hindered by the level of debris that is located in the ocean. So much garbage has been dumped haphazardly on this planet and in the waterways that there is a trash-strewn section of ocean to comb through in the hunt for remnants of Flight 370 (Murdoch, 2014). So far, the searchers have been out looking for the plane's wreckage every day and nothing has been found. It does seem as though the plane simply disappeared. The search will continue, but the "ping" from the plane will only last approximately 30 days before the battery power that produces it fades (Murdoch, 2014). Once that takes place, finding the plane (especially in the ocean) may become impossible. If searchers cannot locate the ping – and, therefore, the plane – in a timely manner, they could be out of luck completely.
Overall, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 remains a complete mystery. There is no realistic way to determine where it has gone or whether it will ever be found. The searchers believe they are looking in the right area, but they could be wrong. The trash they have to look through could be masking evidence from the wreckage, or it could be possible that the plane is actually somewhere else. The wreckage that came to the surface if the plane did crash into the ocean may have drifted a long way on the currents, as well, making it much more difficult for searchers to locate anything that may be left. There are so many "may" and "could" statements surrounding the flight that knowing what happened to it may never occur. It is possible that no wreckage will ever be located, and that the disappearance of Flight 370 will remain a mystery forever. While it is likely that the wreckage will eventually be found, the entire situation is odd – and that makes determining what happened to the plane more difficult.
If searchers do not find the plane before the "ping" fades, they may have lost their window of opportunity. Years could go by before someone stumbles upon the wreckage, and it may never happen at all. That would provide no closure to a curious public, and certainly not to the families and friends of the 239 people aboard the flight. They will have to live with the assumption that their loved ones are dead, but also with the uncertainty of truly not knowing for sure what actually happened to those people. Being unable to locate a plane that has disappeared is rare, but since it can and does happen it is something that people who fly and their loved ones must remain aware of. Accidents, terroristic acts, and mechanical and pilot errors can occur, and there is not always a way to correct the problem or get out of the situation safely. Flying still remains a highly safe way to travel overall, but that is little comfort to the families of those who are missing on Flight 370.
Kaiman, J. & Branigan, T. (2014). Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: what we know – and what we don't. The Guardian, 11. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/malaysia-airlines-flight-mh370-search-missing-plane-balotelli
Murdoch, L. (2014). Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Floating debris spotted by Chinese satellite image. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/world/missing-malaysia-airlines-flight-mh370-floating-debris-spotted-by-chinese-satellite-image-20140322-35ap6.html
Neuman, S. (2014). Search for Flight MH370 reportedly largest in history. The Two-way. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/17/290890377/search-for-flight-mh370-reportedly-largest-in-history
Pearlman, J. & Wu, A. (2014). Revealed: the final 54 minutes of communication from MH370. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/malaysia/10714907/Revealed-the-final-54-minutes-of-communication-from-MH370.html