The Ongoing Aviation Mystery

With each passing day, the mystery revolving around missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 deepens, mesmerizing a rattled global audience anxiously following the dramatic developments.

“We are looking at large tracts of land… as well as deep and remote oceans,” said Malaysia’s defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who also doubles as the acting transportation minister, on Sunday.

That was an understatement.

More than 10 days since the Boeing 777 took off from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing, the search for the missing plane has been expanded to cover an impossibly vast swath of Asia extending from Kazakhstan to Australia. Malaysia is appealing for as many airplanes and ships as the world can provide to join in the search.

The countries where the jet carrying 239 people could have theoretically gone, based on a signal picked up by a satellite, stretch north and west from the plane’s last known location and include Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Another arc that is being searched stretches south and west between Indonesia and Australia and well into the Indian Ocean.

In other words, investigators are virtually clueless about where the plane was located when it was last heard from. Nor did they have any idea why the plan’s communications system was shut down.

As friends and relatives of those aboard cling to hope, suggesting that the plane may have been hijacked and forced to land in some remote location, they were forced to deal with the anguish of a series of news reports of debris sightings, each of which subsequently proved to be false.

In the hours after the disappearance, oil slicks were seen in the South China Sea, raising initial speculation that the plane had gone down there. But the substance was tested and found not to be jetliner fuel. Then a Vietnamese aircraft spotted what was suspected to be one of the doors of the missing plane, but this report, too, turned out to be inaccurate.

Later, the media focused on images published on a Chinese government website showing three suspected floating objects, and search planes were dispatched to an area of the South China Sea off the southern tip of Vietnam. But experts subsequently said it appeared very unlikely the debris were from a crashed Boeing 777.

Investigators are equally in the dark as to the reason behind the disappearance.

Early speculation leaned toward terrorism after two men, later identified as Iranians, boarded the plane with stolen passports. But authorities later determined they were migrants seeking to travel to Europe illegally, throwing cold water on that theory.

Was it sabotage? Was it a hijacking gone awry? Or was it mechanical failure?

Some experts are insisting that it is inconceivable that a modern jetliner like the 777 would experience a total electronic failure that left the plane unable to communicate, yet able to keep flying for hours. Yet this premise is primarily based on an erroneous belief in the flawlessness of modern technology, a premise that has been repeatedly refuted. Others posit that the plane continued to fly while decompression left everyone on board unconscious and unable to respond.

When pressed, they all admit that, in reality, they simply don’t know.

We extend our sympathies to the relatives of those on board, and hope that the nightmare of not knowing what happened is soon brought to a close.

In an era that has seen dizzying advances in technology, many find it shocking that a plane with 239 people aboard can disappear, seemingly without a trace.

It is also very humbling. Once again, mortal man has been reminded of his limitations and forced to face a lesson it is often reluctant to learn: Even the most advanced computerized flying systems and the best-trained pilots are mere pawns on a Heavenly chessboard. Ultimately, the fates of all creatures lie solely in the hands of the Creator.