Flight MH370: The Human Factor

A Personal View – March 2014

As expected, the mysterious disappearance of a Boeing 777-200 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing has attracted international media attention. This interest has largely centred on the reason for its unexpected disappearance and to some extent the emotional issues related to family & friends.

Quite rightly so!

With Transponders automatically divulging a plane’s whereabouts without a pilot’s intervention, the flight path of a plane should theoretically be known to the relevant authorities. How could this be? Surely the transponders were manually disenabled & if so, by whom?

Whether this had been by some fanatical terrorist organisation or – heaven forbid – even the pilots themselves, this could plausibly explain the mysterious circumstances of their non-functioning at such a critical juncture.

But I am inured to conspiracy theories. Having been an avid reader of some of the most widely read books on Roslyn Castle in Scotland, the Knights Templates & more particularly the marriage of Christ to Mary Magdalene in which a son was conceived, I was cured of such highly speculative arguments.

For a few decades thereafter I was an “agnostic” in my belief in such theories but I was finally cured & became an “atheist” as regards their veracity when I viewed a program on DStv in which one of these authors was questioned during an interview why she believed that Christ had married & that Mary had conceived his son.

Of all the evidence for this eventuality that she could muster was that Jesus was 29 years old and as all good Jewish boys of this epoch were expected to married, he WOULD have been married. Furthermore as the age of marriage was in the late teens in an era without contraception being available, Jesus MUST have borne children.

And so the supposed “evidence” was stacked up, all of it highly circumstantial. Two aspects of her defence of the book’s premise struck a chord; all that the book was premised upon was shoulds-haves and musts-haves with nary a shred of genuine concrete evidence to back up her claims. Furthermore even though I must admit that I had read the book 20 years previously, as far as could I recall, the case made for her conclusion in the book was much more concrete.

There was only one conclusion that I could come to: I had been duped. The line of books on the book shelf was duly removed & donated to the local library.

Never again would I be conned into some outrageous theory. My cynicism has mainly withstood the test of time like South Africa’s favourite beer, but when this story broke, my first conclusion was that the plane had been blown out of the sky by some misbegotten radicals eager for an untardy passage to heaven or is that hell!

What other explanation could there be for such a tragedy?

I will not claim credit for the non-conspiratorial possibility that I eventually put my faith in but it is far more prosaic than the theories abounding on the social media & the internet: a natural or mechanical disaster. What about a situation where there was a catastrophic failure much like an onboard explosion but arising from either instantaneous mechanical failure such as a sudden loss of air pressure which would immediately have  disabled the pilots preventing further communication. Instead of mechanical failure, it could have been a meteorite strike which would have the same consequences.

Cast one’s mind back by 12 years to November 2001 almost exactly two months after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centrer in Manhattan. Flight 587 was en route from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to the Dominican Republic.

This crash initially spawned fears of another Terrorism attack. In fact many eye witnesses were so traumatised that they vehemently claimed that they had seen an anti-aircraft missile glinting in the clear blue sky en route to its target. Despite no air traffic controllers’ radars recording such an event, they clung to their story. Even today they fervently believe that the CIA, the FBI or the US Government itself is engaged in a cover up of the facts.

The facts are much more prosaic:  the disaster was the consequence of the first officer’s overuse of the rudder controls on the Airbus in response to Wake turbulence or jet wash from a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 that had taken off some five minutes before it.

So given my natural aversion to fairy stories & scare mongering, I will stick with my version of it being a natural disaster.

But another element of this tragedy has also made its imprint on me. This aspect has been the next-of-kin’s hysterical demand for information on their loved ones: scenes of inconsolable relatives & friends wailing pitilessly because their need for more information on the fate of the passengers which was not forthcoming.

I imagined myself being the PR person for Malaysia Air. What information would I convey to these grieving people, clutching at straws about secret air bases where the plane could have landed but was unable to contact anybody?

Every hour on the hour they expected an update as to their whereabouts. What words of solace, of hope let alone real information – which they wanted & not platitudes – would I be able to provide.

Instead they would vent their spleen on me.

If one casts one’s mind back to the terrorist attack on 9th September 2001, one can clearly remember how the US government was in total disarray. In reality they knew as little about the true state of affairs as the average citizen did, yet the people expected a concise report on all aspects of the tragedy that was unfolding including the perpetrators & their modus operandi.

Are not the natural desires of anxious relatives for precise & detailed information of the causes & fates of people in these events beyond what is possible?

I fear so.

In a world of instant communication, the populace has become accustomed to instantaneous responses but that is not possible.

In a previous age, a soldier’s death during the Boer War in South Africa would only have become known in the UK after the mail ship’s arrival in the UK two weeks later yet now, in a later age, detailed information about how a soldier died in Afghanistan is demanded on the Defence Department in the UK.

Both sides of the coin indicate decisively the limitations of technology contrasted with our natural human desire for perfection and control.

This is not possible in spite of the demand.

Unfortunately governments & the authorities will continue be held accountable for something outside their control.



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