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Mystery of Malaysian jetliner demands patience and action



Published: Fri, March 21, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the longest commercial aircraft disappearance in modern aviation history, has raised immense speculation, intrigue and sensational theories, the intensity of which parallels those of the doomed flight of pioneer American aviator Amelia Earhart over the Pacific Ocean 77 years ago.

Unfortunately, this anguishing international mystery that has consumed the mass media and the mass consciousness over the past 14 days has been amazingly high on hunches but sadly low on concrete and credible evidence.

Because of the avalanche of sometimes wild and unsupported conjecture over the calamity and its causes, not only has the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew members become lost, so, too, have logic and rational thinking among some captivated observers.

Many not credible and some usually credible sources have opened a floodgate of speculative theories. To wit:

Following the revelation that two passengers used stolen passports to board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 terrorists commandeered the plane to a crash landing.

The jetliner had been landed safely, hidden or camouflaged and will be refueled and fitted with a new transponder before taking off to attack a city.

The Kremlin believes that the U.S. “captured” the plane and flew it to its base on the tropical atoll of Diego Garcia.

Despite the outlandish nature of some of these and other conspiracy theories circulating unabated online and in social media, the high interest in the story is understandable. Human nature simply demands answers to mysteries. As aviation historian Carroll Gray has pointed out, “Things that are unsolved just sort of grab people, especially when you have the common experience of flying.”

TECHNOLOGY IS NOT OMNIPOTENT

What’s more, in this age of high expectations from the wonders of sophisticated technology, many remain incredulous that answers elude authorities. Many wonder why we cannot find this wreckage when a satellite orbiting thousands of miles above Earth can detect the model of a car traveling down an interstate.

Despite its many wondrous advances, technology cannot resolve every problem or shed light on every mystery. This is one of the unfortunate lessons of the Flight 370 disaster. Indeed, the fact that an airliner could disappear from earthly contact over the ocean remains just as true today as it was in 1937 when Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan vanished in a doomed flight around the world.

Another lesson from this tragedy is the need to invest in developing technology to better track missing aircraft in remote locations on land or sea. The U.S. is developing a potentially more effective satellite-based tracking system that would do just that, but its time line for completion is at least six years away. That time line and other similar efforts among other nations ought to be expedited so that tracking that relies heavily on decades-old radar systems can be substantially enhanced.

A final lesson to be reinforced from this mystery is that even in our universal culture of speed, patience remains a virtue. Unsubstantiated and sensationalized speculation does little good for anyone, least of all the tormented families and loved ones of the 279 aboard the airliner. We are confident that at some point the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be solved and that the U.S. and other nations will work diligently to improve air-tracking technology to avoid any repeat of this ongoing and anguishing global enigma.


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