Letter from the Editor

| March 20, 2014
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By the time you read this, authorities may have solved the biggest mystery of the year: What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? But I doubt it. Even if wreckage is found, it will take a long time — if ever — to figure out who or what caused the jet to diverge from its assigned flight path and disappear from radar. And why.

The incident has passed beyond news into folklore — and, as is inevitable these days, a social media meme. Have you seen the picture that's going around of Gilligan, the Captain, and the Professor from Gilligan's Island with the Malaysian airliner in the background? And, as could have been predicted by those of us who occasionally watch episodes of The UFO Files, alien intervention has also been raised as a possibility, even on CNN. That would be a real game-changer, eh?

As I write this, it's been 11 days since the plane disappeared. The backgrounds of the captain and crew members have been thoroughly examined. The passenger list has been scoured for anyone with possible terrorist ties. Nothing has emerged to justify suspicions of foul play from anyone on board. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean and land in 14 countries have been surveyed for wreckage with no success.

What is known is that 40 minutes into the flight, the ACARS system that sends information on a plane's engines and other data was turned off. Fourteen minutes later, the transponder, which allows a plane to be tracked on radar, was also turned off. The final words heard from the cockpit to air traffic controllers were, "All right, good night." But this communication happened well after the tracking devices had been turned off. Evidence suggests the plane then abruptly turned east from its designated northward flight path. Why any of this would happen is at the heart of this mystery.

Were the captains working together to steal or destroy a plane? That seems highly improbable, but turning off the tracking devices would have to have happened in the cockpit. Were the passengers aware of any of this drama? If so, why is there no evidence of attempted cellphone communications?

Those of us of a certain age were schooled on the disappearance of pioneer American aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whose plane was lost in the Pacific Ocean during an attempted circumnavigation of the globe in 1937. Her plane was never found, and that mystery endures to this day. But that was a small plane carrying two people, and the incident occurred well before the kinds of sophisticated radar and tracking devices that now exist. This is a mystery on a much larger scale.

And there's another mystery of sorts, one raised by Gregg Easterbrook, an aviation expert writing in The New York Times, who pointed out that one reason the terrorists of 9/11 were so easily able to fly into the World Trade Center was that they had turned off their hijacked planes' transponders. Why, Easterbrook wondered, would we still be using planes with transponders that can be turned off?

Good question. Among many.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

I don't think we know what they know. Hell, I don't think they know what they know. "Turned off" could mean "failed". Have they said what the ATC said before the pilot said "Good night". They say that all the time when being handed between ATC centers.

If the ACARS isn't essential to staying in the air, it may not be that robust of a system. I'm sure some pilots will comment on that. I wonder if any have had ACARS failures. I know some ramp agents at FedEX have complained about ACARS (I believe they use it to transfer weight and balance information to the flight deck now). Why weren't there cell phone calls? I think these questions come from folks who have never left the city limits.

Lots of lots of questions.

Might as well put in my opinion. Vladamir downed it to to take media attention away from his land grab.

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Posted by 38103 on 03/20/2014 at 11:09 AM

Nice article- the media has really gone nuts with the theories on this one. Normally I would not plug links to another website like this, but this article reminded me of The Onion’s coverage:
“Malaysia Airlines Expands Investigation To Include General Scope Of Space, Time”
http://www.theonion.com/articles/malaysian…
and
“Families Of Missing Flight Passengers Just Hoping Media Gets Closure It Needs”
http://www.theonion.com/articles/families-…

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Posted by barf on 03/20/2014 at 11:50 AM

The way I heard it is that pilots need the option of turning a transponder off in case it fails and/or shorts out; which could possibly lead to an electrical fire aboard the aircraft.

Makes sense to me. I'd rather a pilot have the ability to immediately isolate the threat than inhale toxic fumes emitting from an electrical fire six miles high or higher in an enclosed airplane.

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Posted by Nightcrawler on 03/20/2014 at 12:35 PM

Where's Rod Serling when you need him? I'm going with alien abduction.

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Posted by mejjep on 03/20/2014 at 4:11 PM

Bruce,
You are an enabler for every paranoid whack job out here. So here's my take...
Malacca pirates bribe or coerce the crew to land on an atoll known only to them (for thousands of years!). They are being held for ransom as is the wont of Malacca pirates. Until a super agent, thrown out of said agency for disrespect, poor shaving habits and a perpetually raspy voice. is called back to rescue.
Or maybe they hit a bunch of ducks.

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Posted by CL Mullins on 03/20/2014 at 4:57 PM

Why didn't they use their cellphones? I wondered about that until I realized it was an overnight flight. I've had to stop myself from imagining what it would be like to go to sleep on a plane and wake up hours later to find that the plane has been headed in the wrong direction with only ocean down below. I don't know if I believe in hell anymore but whoever is responsible for taking totally vulnerable and innocent people to their deaths in such a manner deserves whatever torments are most extreme in this universe.

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Posted by Brunetto Latini on 03/20/2014 at 10:29 PM
Showing 1-6 of 6

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