Thursday, April 3, 2014

#MH370 Mystery

I’m a bit of an aviation geek so the disappearance of a Boeing 777 fascinates me.  Having been to the Boeing factory in Everette, WA where they assemble the 777 and gotten to climb through one and see how large it is I’m truly baffled that one has vanished from the planet.

Nothing I say here is revolutionary but as the story evolves here are my thoughts from a lowly AV geek who flies a lot.

Flying is a high tech enterprise.  The planes are high tech, the crews are well trained, and the communications systems are first rate.  That’s my first quandary – how could a plane with 239 people on it completely vanish without a trace in 2014?  The evidence would indicate that they wanted to disappear as they chose the moment of flight ripe for going off grid in terms of the hand-off from one air traffic control center to another.  However, the obvious cockpit communications equipment is only one piece of the puzzle.  The engines and other aircraft systems often have their own communications systems and we know these continued to operate long after the cockpit communications (transponder, radio, etc.) were turned off.

The other part of the communications puzzle is the location in the world where this happened.  The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water on the planet and the southern half is very remote.  There is also very limited satellite coverage for those systems communications to contact.  Even still, a remote part of the world with people intentional on going away should have still be detectable by other types of spy satellites, military radar, etc. and yet we have nothing.  Just a few pings from the engine systems off a single satellite and a lot of complicated math to even get us in the ballpark for where the plane may have gone down.

That same high tech though has aided investigators in at least getting this far.  Even without knowing the altitude and speed of the plane the evidence from those few pings and knowing how much fuel was on board has at least narrowed things down.  Granted it took a while to figure all of that out but at least we aren’t still searching in the South China Sea.

My next observation is the lack of debris.  One would think that by now if the plane did indeed crash in the water that on some beach somewhere something would have washed ashore.  In previous crashes into oceans debris and even bodies have washed up on coastlines within a few days but here we have nothing.  Nothing.  All we have discovered in searching is that the Indian Ocean is a much-polluted body of water with folks dumping all kinds of stuff in there. 

There can be many reasons for no debris but most of them are far-fetched and would be historical if proven true.  Finding the airplane in tact on the bottom of the ocean and understanding how it got there without any surface evidence will be game changing.

Combining these first two mysteries with the disappearance of 239 people and this does indeed become one of the greatest mysteries of our generation.  The loss of life here is tragic but there doesn’t seem to be a scenario where these folks could still be alive.  If the plane were stolen in the greatest heist ever then who would want to keep 239 people alive for this long without making some sort of ransom demand?  If the plane was stolen for purposes of turning it into a weapon then hiding it this long is a feat in and of itself.  You’d think those determined to use it for evil would want to get their ill will accomplished before they could be discovered.

I’m sure that all will eventually be revealed, but it will take time and patience and those traits are hard to come by in a situation like this.  I do think the Malaysians are in over their heads and obviously not used to this sort of international scrutiny and would be wise to turn over the investigation to another nation.

It took 73 years to find the Titanic, granted they had eye witness to tell them what happened but the wreck wasn’t discovered for almost three quarters of a century.  The search areas are massive and even with our sophisticated technology our lack of ocean knowledge combined with the sheer size of the area could still leave us waiting for several years before any of these questions are answered.