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Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

March 15, 2014 12:57 IST

Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

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Mitali Saran

The vanishing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is utterly mystifying in today’s tech-heavy environment, says Mitali Saran

Jim Thompson, the American designer who put Thai silk on the world map in the 1950s, was then probably the most famous American in Asia.

One day, on a trip to Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, he walked into the forest alone, and was never heard from again.

Thompson’s disappearance led to the most massive manhunt in Malaysian history up to that point, employing everything from hundreds of army personnel to (controversially) psychic investigators.

Thompson’s disappearance remains an unsolved mystery, but a single, ageing man in the forest is a fragile thing. He can suddenly want to disappear, or suffer an accident or a health crisis. You can imagine it.

Today, not just Malaysia but 11 other countries are pooling resources and manpower to try and solve another, much less explicable mystery: Where is Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777 the size of a multi-story building, equipped with more communication options than you can shake a stick at?

Amelia Earhart’s plane went missing in 1937, when you can imagine that planes might have. But the vanishing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is utterly mystifying in today’s tech-heavy environment.

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Image: A girl has her picture taken after leaving messages of support and hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Photographs: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

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Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

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Mitali Saran

The plane did not report mechanical trouble, did not encounter poor weather, and was at cruising altitude, not in the riskier few minutes after take-off and before landing, when it disappeared.

The pilot at the controls was a seasoned, stable veteran. He was not flying anywhere near the famously mysterious Bermuda Triangle, which has swallowed up plenty of aircraft. There were no mayday calls, nor any indications of unusual events from the crew.

The world today is a tightly networked, data-rich place, with plenty of brainpower backed by immense technological information-gathering arsenal. Air, sea and ground transport operates under the constant supervision of radar, satellite, camera, sonar, radio, and data links.

All of these have failed to make anything of the sudden cloak of silence and invisibility pulled over MH370.

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Image: A woman and a girl look at a Malaysia Airlines plane on the tarmac of Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Photographs: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

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Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

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Mitali Saran

Twelve countries, including India, are leaning into the search effort, contributing aircraft, naval and commercial seagoing vessels, manpower, and investigators, and not one of them has turned up anything concrete, though, as one naval commander said, widening the search area into the Indian Ocean is like “moving from a chess board to a football field”.

So far, here’s what we know about what happened: Nothing.

MH370 has simply vanished.

Malaysian authorities have been struggling to look competent as the search drags on.

With frantic -- and, presumably, exhausted -- families holed up in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur or spread out across the world, desperate for information about the 239 souls on board the flight, Malaysia has only been able to look defensive, inefficient, and inexplicably secretive, selectively releasing chaotic and conflicting information, like first saying and then unsaying that military radar detected the flight off-course in the Straits of Malacca.

Almost a week into the search, all we have is questions.

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Image: Muslims pray during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur. The Friday prayers also included a special prayer for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
Photographs: Edgar Su/Reuters

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Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

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Mitali Saran

Did the plane suffer an explosion or structural disintegration, leaving no time for emergency communication?

Did it in fact change course? If so, was that deliberate?

Was it instrument malfunction, a hijacking, or a crew member’s personal agenda?

Did the aircraft’s transponder stop working or was it, along with another transmission system, deliberately turned off?

Did the faint satellite pings, four hours after MH370 lost contact with ground control, come from the missing plane?

Were the emergency locator transmitters, which are designed to go off on impact with water, functioning?

Did the pilot’s “mumbling”, last heard on the radio by another flight crew, signify a slow decompression problem that led to hypoxia?

Was the burning object that an oil rig worker in Vietnam reported seeing fall from the sky the missing Boeing 777-200?

Were the two Iranians travelling on stolen passports, or the Uighur Chinese man, involved in an act of terrorism?

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Image: A message expressing well wishes for family members of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight
Photographs: Samsul Said/Reuters

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Where did Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 disappear?

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Mitali Saran

What about the creepy fact that passenger cell phones were ringing, though calls remained unanswered, after the plane went missing?

We process loss via evidence, and there is none yet. It’s too early to brand this a tragedy -- after all, if the plane was hijacked to an undisclosed location, people may yet be alive -- but the mystery is deeply frustrating not just to the official investigation, but to the thousands of online volunteers all over the world who are combing satellite imagery for debris in a crowdsourcing effort to find the aircraft, and to the rest of the world, which tends to take aviation accidents personally.

Finding MH370 may take a while, but it is a point of honour, not to mention humanity, to keep looking. Despite the fact that a shaman has reportedly joined the efforts, we tend to continue to believe that there’s a good explanation for all this, even if it’s a saddening one.

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Image: A 'Pray for MH370' projection is seen on the Putra World Trade Centre building in Kuala Lumpur
Photographs: Samsul Said/Reuters

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