Where is MH370?
That is the question.
One year on from the tragedy we are seemingly no closer to an answer. The search continues and high-tech sensors scour the ocean floor as experts scour their maps. Still we seem to be no closer to resolving aviation’s greatest mystery and ‘not knowing’ remains the only true constant. And that uncertainty can be a living hell for those left behind.
I saw this first hand in the wake of a wartime loss. My father had served as a fighter pilot in Korea and one of his squadron mates had been lost. The pilot had transmitted that he was in trouble and a short time later his jet was sighted flying straight and level – without its pilot and the ejection seat missing. Decades later my father was still answering phone calls from his family as they clung onto any shred of hope. The thin chance that he was an ageing prisoner-of-war in a North Korean camp kept them going.
The families of MH370’s victims have most likely accepted that the aircraft went down with a total loss of life, however, for them the uncertainty still remains. Their eyes scanning the media for any sign of news and their imaginations playing tortuous games, reliving their loved ones possible final moments. There is no true closure without answers.
Yet despite the lack of facts and evidence, there is no lack of theories. Books, reconstructions and tele-dramas sweep speculation around the world, adding nothing to the reality. As the professionals spend long hours on the decks of the search vessels, the armchair experts paint endless pictures of what might have happened and collect their royalties. Meanwhile the families wait for facts.
We really know very little about what occurred once the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was advised to change frequencies. They acknowledged the instruction in a relaxed manner and then their fate became a mystery, like an airborne ‘Mary Celeste’. Gradually radar plots came to light and the search area made a massive U-turn to a remote region far south of the equator. There were reports of ‘pings’ resembling black-box signals being heard, but nothing was found.
For the little we do know, there remains the question of what we don’t know. Has all of the data been released by those who have access to it? This perspective has sent both conspiracy theorists and very rational investigators into a mild frenzy. The by-product being even more theories filling books and websites.
The theories range from cover-ups to technical problems and military shoot-downs to rogue pilots. One by one these theories have been closely examined and generally disproven, although they can never be summarily dismissed until the true answers have been found. Still, given the reliability of the Boeing 777 and an absence of any similar events with the aircraft type, it would appear that MH370 may have been a rogue event. A one-off from outside the limits of the statistical bell-curve. Unfortunately unforeseen and most likely unable to be prevented in the future.
The essence of MH370’s discovery from an aviation perspective is to dissect the tragedy and safeguard against similar events through strategy, design and training. This may never occur as the aircraft may never be found and if it is, the randomness of the event may render it little more than a bizarre episode in aviation history and a statistical anomaly. However, for some it will always remain a pivotal moment in life.
For the families of MH370, finding the lost aircraft may not provide future policy, but personal closure. A dilution of the anguish without ever being able to extinguish the pain entirely. For those families only real answers will ever suffice and speculation will only serve as a further barb. For authorities and governments, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, ‘not knowing’ is the cruellest blow.