The ‘loss’ of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370

The announced ‘loss’ of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 is still not being accepted by a majority of the relatives of the passengers who were on that plane as the final word. It is only human to hope against hope, and despite the firm declaration that there was enough evidence to finally declare that the plane had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, this is not accepted as the end of the matter for the relatives. They want stronger evidence in the form of plane debris or other wreckage that only, in their view, signify closure.

There is not one but many mysteries surrounding this so-called loss – or could it be a disappearance, having been diverted to some other destination? This possibility has been speculated upon; however, it is considered unlikely given that such an aircraft can only land at a place where all the sophisticated facilities exist to guide its landing, which also means that such a place must be of adequate size and have a runway long enough to allow safe landing. In other words, a very modern, large airport. If it has landed elsewhere on land, even in an uninhabited and remote place, it can only have crashed and all the passengers would have died as a result.

As regards debris, so far the 126 objects that has been detected by satellite at the site about 2500 km to the south-west of Perth off the coast of Australia have not been identified or picked up by search vessels. The initial larger object of about 24 metres size that had been seen by satellite imagery has not been confirmed either. The latest report is satellite images showing about 300 floating objects over the same area of the southern Indian Ocean, and again search planes and ships have been deployed to scout the area. However, very difficult weather conditions are hampering the procedure, and there is no predicting when anything definitive will show up, if at all.

On the other hand, suspicions about the pilot and co-pilot, and passengers including the two that were travelling on false passports have not revealed any link to fundamentalist organizations, and therefore the possibility of the plane having been hijacked is on the backburner as the focus is on the search to confirm the presence of debris.

There are, nevertheless, unanswered queries. For example, why did the plane make the sudden change of course towards the west just before it reached the eastern end of peninsular Malaysia? It flew for some time at 45000 feet, whereas its cruising altitude is about 35000 feet. It is only a human manoeuvre – the pilot’s or someone else with equivalent training – that could have taken the plane to that higher level. Why would the pilot do so?

Further, after while, it flew very low at 10000 feet and continued at that altitude. This is completely unusual for such a huge plane – in any case its destination was eastwards towards Beijing, why had it diverted? Did the pilot face some sort of failure mechanical or electronic that compelled him to veer course and fly so low?

So many are the questions that remain to be elucidated. The ill-fated Air France flight that blew up in over the Atlantic in 2009 on its way from Brazil to Paris was attributed to human error. A most amazing and terrifying picture taken on a mobile by a passenger showed the plane roof having blown off and a passenger being sucked out! It took over two years to find the black box and the remains of the plane at the bottom of the Atlantic.

There was also the Concorde that caught fire exactly 73 seconds after taking off shortly from Paris airport and crashed onto a hotel, becoming a ball of fire with all on board burnt to their horrible deaths. The cause of the fire was found to be damage caused to the fuel tank by a flying piece of metal present on the runway; it had been hit by the Concorde’s wheel as it was about to take off.

All this shows that however sophisticated our technology becomes, there will never be an absolute guarantee of safety in whatever we as human beings undertake. Human failure, equipment failure of mechanical or electronic origin, external causes such as the piece of metal in the case of the Concorde – all these will continue to haunt us.

What we must hope is that if there was human failure in the case of MH 370, it was unintentional and not deliberate. That indeed, if it were proved to be the case, would add immensely to the tragedy.


* Published in print edition on 28 March 2014

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