The suspended search for Malaysian Airline Flight 370

Posted by: Bill Webb in Untagged  on Print PDF

I’ve tried to stay abreast of developments in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which virtually disappeared from radio and radar contact two months ago with more than 200 people aboard.

Today’s news suggests that the underwater search in the Indian Ocean is being put on hold for probably two months. As I write, the Bluefin-21 drone is within 24 hours or so of completing its final underwater search before the lengthy pause in the operation.

The problem is that an exhaustive search by air begun shortly after the plane’s disappearance back on March 8 has not turned up any surface debris from the aircraft, and the use of sophisticated and expensive underwater devices like the Bluefin-21 drone have not come upon the plane, either intact or in pieces. No evidence apparently exists to confirm exactly what happened.

The airliner took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, en route to Beijing, China, a somewhat routine flight on a relatively uncomplicated route. But before it had gone too far, it apparently banked and then ceased transmitting tracking signals. Distraught family members and friends of passengers and the crew waited for weeks for some sort of word on the whereabouts and fate of those on board.

Every moment produced new levels of frustration, anguish and grief for families, many of whom stayed holed up in hotels near where they expected daily briefings from authorities and searchers. They have since dispersed to their homes, but the waiting has continued.

In our high-tech world, it is almost unfathomable that an airliner could simply disappear. Planes like this international airliner are huge compared to most objects. But our world is expansive, too. It has been no small chore to comb the surface of the Indian Ocean and — earlier on — adjacent bodies of water.

Then there is the world we cannot see below the surface of the water. It is hard to imagine underwater mountains and valleys and a rugged ocean floor. The ocean could have effectively swallowed up the airliner and hidden it, especially if it entered the water intact.

Perhaps one of the lessons we can draw from this loss — and everyone hopes it is temporary — is that we may not be as advanced as we let on. Despite the dizzying pace at which technology and knowledge advance, we haven’t fully figured out the created Earth and its multitude of secrets.

It is both awe-inspiring and dangerous as we traverse it above sea level and well below the water’s surface. We have not exhausted our knowledge of the atmosphere, the dry land or the waters that cover our spherical planet.

Leaders hope to secure contracts and plans for even more sophisticated search vehicles to pick up the hunt two months from now. Whether adequate technology exists for success in the hunt remains to be seen. If it does, are there enough search units to cover all the underwater territory that may need to be scoured before the search concludes successfully?

Finding the fate of the people on board is still important. This is a not a rescue mission but a recovery operation. Knowing where passengers and crew are located will help bring closure to distraught families. Discovering the reason for whatever happened to MH370 may help prevent similar catastrophes in the future, especially if mechanical failure of some kind is the culprit.

I’ll still follow this story of human drama, and I’ll still pray for those who appear to have lost loved ones. And I’ll pray that the search, when it resumes, will yield conclusive results. I will continue to pray for wisdom for leaders who will develop and implement ongoing search strategies.

In the case of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, all of us in the international community are haunted by this sense of not knowing.

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