Haystack and needle

March 28, 2014 - 6:56:51 am

Malaysia should not rush to conclusions until debris form the missing airliner is recovered. 


The sighting of hundreds of objects thought to be from Flight MH370 which, it is believed crashed in the ocean, comes amid the tension and expectation generated by the gargantuan search operation. There is understandable anger and frustration among the victims’ families. After 19 days of agonising wait, the families had hoped, maybe against hope, to face a situation that they expected to be much less painful. Unfortunately, what they have come across is the worst. None of the 239 people on board the flight, the Malaysian government has declared, survived the nearly eight-hour digression, which would remain one of the most enigmatic plane journeys in aviation history. 

When the Malaysian president declared on Tuesday that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,500 kilometres from the west coast of Australia, all hopes of the families were shattered. Many of the relatives still believe their loved ones are not dead. The grief-laden human mind would not yield to the remote sensing abilities of a satellite hundreds of kilometres above the earth in a forlorn orbit. Nor would a mother or wife understand the complexities of innumerable electromagnetic wave signals brought together to zero in on a suspected piece of debris. 

Most family members will find it hard to believe any technology-laced theory explaining the mysterious disappearance of the Boeing 777 after 19 days of waffling by the government and airline. What is needed now to bring some closure is the actual sighting of debris and its display to the aggrieved. 

The sudden announcement aimed at bringing the tragedy to a closure reeks of a haste driven by administrative fatigue. The news should have been broken to the families in a way that brought to them the tragedy in perspective. Who will want to believe that the flight had crashed without a piece of debris being sighted? What would happen to the already tainted credibility of the Malaysian government if it is later found that the debris didn’t belong to the lost aircraft. 

Instead of categorically saying that the plane landed in the ocean and that the passengers, with reasonable certainty, had all perished, the Malaysian prime minister should have waited for the ultimate proof—the discovery of an aircraft part. It was the same government that in the initial stages of the search denied that the plane veered from its course, before later accepting and backing the theory. 

Even though it sounds preposterous to say that the flight may not have crashed, investigators are yet to zero in on solid proof that it did. It would have sounded incredulous before March 8 that an airliner with 239 people could for seven hours fly in a direction opposite to its planned route. Similarly, it may still not be possible to rule out a cause that sounds bizarre but would not be so later.