Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 created waves that washed up on to some very different shores. There is the Malaysian government, whose self-contained and molly-coddled political caste has shown nothing but ineptitude when it came time to be responsible. There is Boeing, the maker of the jet, trying to look small. There is China, which nearly blew a fuse since the most of the people on the flight were Chinese. There are people like me, who pay our bills reviewing and profiling airlines and destinations like Malaysia, which has shown itself to be a blooming idiot when it comes to disaster response. And there is Fox News, who, yes, actually managed to find some idiot to blame President Obama for the missing plane.
But even as Fox got even nuttier, even very respected news outlets threw the facts right out the window and began taking wild shots in the dark to explain what happened. They speculated. And it is the worst thing you can do.
Believe it or not, Malaysian Airlines is one of the safest carriers around. Airlineratings.com give it six out of seven stars for safety, Skytrax gives similar accolades. Thus, until we know exactly what happened to MH370, it is unfair to assume the airline officials are so corrupt, or inspectors so lax, that they let an unfit plane fly. As for the plane itself, the 777 is one of the safest in the air. Despite high-profile accidents involving the craft (the Asiana crash in San Francisco in 2013 and a British Airway crash short of the Heathrow runway in 2008), Airsafe.com Director Todd Curtis confirmed to CNBC last year a good safety record compared with any major aircraft introduced in the past two decades.
But we all love a good mystery, and even more so if there are flying body parts involved. It is a sad commentary on our times that we immediately jumped to the conclusion the plane was a victim of terrorism, but from the start it was unlikely. No one claimed responsibility or even made a boast, and there is not one terrorist in the world that isn't an attention whore. Then it was conjectured the plane was hijacked, an act so brazen as to be nearly impossible: a 777 is a huge plane, and any hijacker would have to land on an equally huge runway that no one, not even Google Earth, knows about. Then there is the prospect of keeping under control 239 people in a post 9/11 world -- Osama bin Laden effectively ended the Age of the Hostage. And again, there were no demands for ransom, or, indeed, demands of any kind.
Amazingly, people then started talking about alien abduction. Instead of coming down out of the rafters, reports got more extreme. One tabloid even claimed MH370 was on the moon, a commute I would love to see an aircraft combustion engine pull off. The fact the Malaysian government keeps changing the story only adds fuel to the conspiracy theorists fire, and to the indignation of families whose loved ones are missing.
I will bet my bottom dollar that what we are looking at is an unlikely, but catastrophic, failure of the plane, either because of design, pilot failure, or weather. It was a crash. Tragic, and definitely mysterious, but mundane.
No less speculative but by far one of the most realistic and level-headed analyses of the situation came from Wired magazine, where author and pilot Chris Goodfellow postulated that when MH370 crossed over the South China Sea, it experienced something, perhaps turbulence, a short circuit, a landing gear fire, or an electrical fire, so severe it knocked out several plane systems, including ACARS, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. When systems in a plane go offline, it is common practice for the pilots to turn off everything else, and then switch things back on one at a time until the faulty circuit is isolated. During this process, the plane goes silent.
Goodfellow explains MH370's sharp turn back to Malaysia as an attempt to get to the airport at Pulau Langkawi, which is big enough to accommodate a 777 landing. The theory makes sense; Langkawi is directly in-line with the new flight path investigators say the plane took. When something goes wrong with any aircraft system, the first rule all pilots follow is this: Get the plane on the ground immediately.
But then something when wrong again, because the flight kept on going into the Indian Ocean, where it most likely flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed. To Goodfellow, that indicates that whatever happened, it incapacitated the plane or the crew or both that nothing could be done to save it. And as the Indian Ocean tsunami highlighted in 2004, this particular body of water is one of the least monitored on the planet. Radar is spotty at best. It's also one of the emptiest oceans. If you want to lose something, it's the perfect place to go.
Officially, as the investigation proceeds -- however clumsily -- flight MH370 is listed as "lost." That means that investigators don't yet know what happened to the plane. And neither do we. As governments and journalists who are in no way attached to the investigation, it is irresponsible to spout out every theory in the book as fact. That only serves to panic the public. It is inexcusable to appropriate MH370's disappearance for political gain (looking at you, Fox.) That is just plain heartless.
We have to wait the answer. And not give our own.