Into thin air

March 11, 2014 - 12:56:22 am

Disappearance of Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 throws up questions which deepen the mystery behind the incident.


The wait for their dear ones would seem to stretch into eternity for relatives of the passengers of the disappeared airliner off Malaysia. Mystery behind the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER one hour into flight after it took off from Kuala Lumpur deepened yesterday after government officials said there was no trace of the aircraft or its debris. 

It has been three days since the flight lost contact while cruising at 35,000 feet on way to Beijing with 239 people on board. Focus keeps shifting to the two passengers who are said to have boarded the plane with stolen passports. 

What happened to the huge aircraft weighing thousands of tonnes? How did it suddenly fade out of radar screens without a distress call or even an inkling to air traffic controllers that something was wrong onboard? 

Air transport is highly sophisticated and complex, involving technology in all its manifestations. An aircraft flying more than 35,000 feet above see level at a speed close to a thousand kilometres an hour is a feat that science has been able to master. It is comfortable, even cosy, inside an aircraft cabin while the elements outside are walloping the fuselage with temperatures 50 degrees below zero. The difference between smoothly functioning equipment and a malfunctioning part at this juncture can be the difference between life and death for those on board.  Of the possibilities that can explain the fate of MH 370, a blast on board seems to come closest to what can be called credible. A senior Malaysian police officer told a news agency yesterday of instances when people were caught trying to board planes with explosives. If the jet was blown to smithereens at that altitude, it would be hard to find the wreckage, which won’t be concentrated in a relatively small area. That is what happened to an Air India flight when it was over the Atlantic Ocean.  Another possibility is the aircraft suddenly stalling and falling into the sea. A stall and fall with the fuselage not disintegrating will keep the plane intact. In this case, it would also be hard to find the remains which, most likely, would be lodged deep in the waters.  Malaysian authorities don’t rule out a hijacking. The hijackers, if any, would have wanted the pilot to go back to Kuala Lumpur (radar evidence shows plane turned back). Ruckus in the cockpit, triggered by the hijack, could have contributed to the crash. The hijackers may have asked the pilots to switch off the transponders so that the plane went off the radar immediately. 

China is getting impatient with Malaysia over the search. Beijing has been told to expedite scouring the sea and land. Whatever the cause of the tragedy, Malaysia should pull all stops to find the plane to end the agonizing wait of passengers’ relatives and seek international help to keep a finger on the cause of the crash.