Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MH370 tragedy: questions for which we may not have answers

Ever since the Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew members vanished about an hour into its flight on March 8, conventional wisdom all along, though not explicitly stated, was that it had crashed. Only runaway, bizarre conspiracy theories spoke of possibilities ranging from abduction by aliens to hijack by terror groups.

It was always hard for the kith and kin of the missing travellers to believe the obvious. The vacuum of information was filled only by the belief that all the 239 would be alive somewhere on earth and would one day emerge to tell the tale.

Since there were no sightings of MH370, the suspicion was that it had come down either over sea or over some remote forested land. Satellite images turned the focus area first to Strait of Malacca, then to South China Sea and then to Southern Indian Ocean.

New analytic method

After 16 days, yesterday, the time had come to face the inevitable. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, "... with deep sadness and regret ... I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean."

The new data he was referring to was an analytic method, "never before used in an investigation of this sort".

Full text of Razak's statement here and the video here

Two agencies -- the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch and British satellite communication agency, Inmarsat -- were involved in the research. They used a mathematical model which was described by Inmarsat Senior Vice President Chris McLaughlin as ground breaking, to determine which way the plane flew and the point of last contact.

McLaughlin explained to CNN how they came to the conclusion. Read here.

In short, scientists analysed the pings the aircraft emitted and picked up by the satellite, to determine the direction the plane flew and and the approximate location of last contact, not long after which the plane would have gone down.

Bigger mystery

What we now know is only an area where the plane may have crashed. But it's no consolation to the kith and kin, who are demanding evidence, either wreckage or bodies. Going by the efforts being made, surely the wreckage would be found, may be after many months, or even many years.

But questions still remain, which are quite unlikely to be answered.

  • How and why did the internal communication systems get turned off? 
  • Why did the plane turn back from its normal flight path?
  • If the pilots wanted to make an emergency landing, because of a mechanical fault, the plane should have headed to a land mass. Why did it fly to the remotest part our planet over sea, thousands of kilometers away from land mass? Unless something catastrophic happened too soon for the pilots to attempt a crash land, and the plane flew on auto-pilot.
  • Was it a mindless deadly fantasy trip of someone on board?
  • Was it a flight adventure of one of the pilots that went horribly wrong?
  • Was it a hijack attempt that went wrong? Even if the pilots or crew wanted to thwart the hijack, the pilots would have guided the plane to land mass. 

The black box, when found, will yield a number clues. But we may still not know what went on in the minds of the pilots, crew and the passengers.

The Kairali ship mystery

The MH370 tragedy reminded me of the disappearance of Kairali, a ship owned by Kerala Shipping Corporation. It had sailed from Mar Goa to Rostok, Germany, via Djibouti, Africa, on June 30, 1979 with 53 people and 20,000 tonnes of iron ore. It vanished in Arabian Sea. That was a big story during my school days, and we used to spend time spinning conspiracy theories.

There is technology to locate the debris. The Kerala government periodically reiterates its determination to find an answer, but nothing really happens. Probably because the technology is very expensive. It was and might still remain a mystery.

Need for continuous tracking

How paradoxical that we can track both spacecraft that travel to outer space as well as a palm-sized mobile phone, but planes and ships vanish without a trace. Did technology fail us, or we failed technology? May be both.

The MH370 tragedy surely drives home the need to summon all the technological resources to put in place a system that will ensure continuous real-time tracking of aircraft and ships. It may be expensive, but might just be worth it.


  1. True there are many unanswered questions as you have pointed out.Certain inexplicable behavior of the plane/pilots casts a serious doubt of the presence of some hidden threats.Let the debris be located first to make sure it crashed into the ocean.
    You have explained very logically.Thanks for dropping in to my blog

  2. It is really sad, that such a thing had happened. However, we can still pray that the mystery has somehow been resolved by itself even if the government doesn't want to waste any more time or money in this project. If all of us join together with the people who are missing and also with their near and dear ones pray together, we can see the miracle happening all by itself. As we all know that there is tremendous power in the combined prayers of so many people. We have to think positive. I am sure in this age of so much advancement in every field , this is not so big a problem.