Losing a plane in the 21st century

After Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was reported missing at 2:40 MST (Malaysia Standard Time), I feel I asked myself the same question thousands of others around the world did as well. How, in 2014, can we simply lose a 63.7 m (209 ft) airplane? At the time of writing this, all 227 passengers and 12 crew members, including two Canadian citizens and two infants, are unaccounted for. The plane is simply missing, with not a single confirmed shard of it found by the various countries who are part of the search. To me, such a concept is unfathomable, yet as it were, not unique.

The Malaysia flight (referred to as Flight MH370) departed the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, at 12:41a.m. MST, on March. Six hours later, it was scheduled to land in Beijing, China. It never made it. At 1:22 a.m. MST, the flight lost all contact with the Malaysian based Subang Air Traffic Control Centre. It’s fate is a mystery.

Although searches and investigations are currently being conducted by the United States, Australia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, no leads have been discovered, except the hint of one, in the form of two passports. It was noted that although passengers 63 and 101 had both boarded the plane with legal passports, the original passport owners and apparent ticket purchasers (Christian Kozel from Austria and Luigi Maraldi from Italy) had not boarded and were in fact safe and well. Both Kozel and Maraldi have stated that their passports had been stolen in recent years. It is unknown as of yet how two stolen passports (listed on the website of the international policing body INTERPOL) could have made it onto a plane without any interactions with airport security. Unconfirmed, two unknown individuals boarding with stolen passports are leading several to believe that the fate of flight MH370 may have in fact been the result of a terrorist action.

As stated, although the concept of a lost plane seems unfathomable, it’s not unique, as seen with the fateful Air France Flight 447. On June 1, 2009, captain Marc Dubois departed from Galeao International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil heading towards Charles de Gaulle International Airport in France. The plane never made it, crashing into the South Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone on board. After searching five days, major parts of the plane were discovered. After fifteen days, 50 of the plane’s 228 passengers were pulled from the water. The tragedy was enhanced when parts of the plane (including the black boxes to know what went wrong) and some of the passengers weren’t discovered until nearly two years later. Fear is obvious that this most recent air disaster may have faced a similar fate.

How, though, can a plane just disappear? It seems like a horror movie plot line or a dime fiction sci-fi novel one grabs in a hurry. We have the technology to track a book being shipped from overseas and to know at any given moment where it is. Surely if we can do that, we can track a whole airplane, right? That’s where people are mistaken. We can locate those items while they’re in the air, or on the land and while all the technology associated with providing those location services are operational. If they’re shut down, if they’re damaged, you’d have no idea where in the massive earth that package has made it too, even if a planned route was mapped out. That may seem like an obvious concept, yet for some reason it’s not being drawn towards Flight MH370. Planes, on average, fly nearly 10,000 ft in the air and can fly at top speeds of 950 kilometers per hour (km/h). If a plane were to fall from that height, at that speed, even an intended flight plan would prove useless. The search radius and potential crash site would be massive and nearly two years to search for a plane in the depths of the South China Sea (where they believe the plane may have landed) may be what it takes, mirroring the Air France disaster. The belief that this search should be an immediate discovery, that a plane shouldn’t just disappear in the 21st century, is uneducated. The South China Sea encompasses an area around 3,500,000 sq. km, and our missing airliner is only 63.7 m. What ever the fate of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members may be, an immediate result shouldn’t be expected.

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