Tuesday, March 11, 2014








(Tuesday March 11, 2014 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)  The search efforts continue today over a vast expanse of oceans and dense jungles from this capital city northeast towards Viet Nam over the South China Sea and has expanded to the north westward over the Adaman Sea.  The combined search area covers approximately 226,000 square miles. Aircraft and naval ships from a number of countries in the region as well as from the United States have deployed resources to the massive search which has expanded significantly since the plane carrying 276 passengers and crews went missing sometime last Saturday night local time. The transponder signal was lost after and the exact location that radar last made contact with the Boeing 777 remains in dispute.  That no debris or other evidence of the massive jet own by Malaysia Airlines has been located is confounding officials conducting the search as well as aviation experts and aeronautical engineers. 

Of all the possible explanations and theories being debated about what happened to Flight MH370 one that seems most difficult to comprehend is that the big plane somehow “disintegrated” in midair.  Yes, the square miles being searched by air and sea are enormous; the vast expanse of the sea can swallow up all manner of boats, ships and planes of every kind.  However, for a jet liner like the Boing 777 to disintegrate without a trace in some ways defies logic.  The plane itself contained structural elements that would float; the seats and luggage of the passengers would also be visible for some time before they too were swallowed down into a sea that tells no tales.  There have been two oil slicks reported off the coast of Malaysian closer to Viet Nam’s air space that have been accessed to not be consistent with the slicks the 777 would have left. 

Perhaps it is just the term itself that is so unsettling – disintegration.  For most of us it implies a cataclysmic event of such force and magnitude that it all but rendered the plane, its parts, the passengers, crew and luggage into small enough particles that have been forever stolen by the prevailing winds.  In recent memory there have only been two other large commercial jet liners that allegedly “disintegrated” and they both transpired on September 11, 2001.  The plane that crashed into an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the plane that crashed into one segment of the Pentagon both leaving no recoverable evidence of the planes or passengers.  For vehicles of this size to merely disintegrate, no matter the circumstances and details such as on board fuel and airspeed at the time of the crash, seems preposterous. The two equally violent collisions that transpired that same day toppled the mighty Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  But from the 16 acre site of twisted steel, pulverized concrete and the total contents of 220 acres of office space, several important parts of those planes were recovered. 

Perhaps the wreckage or remnants of Flight MH370 will be discovered in the dense high canopied jungle of one of the countries in the area.  That type of event would leave traces although they may not be immediately identifiable while the focus has been focused on large sectors of the high seas.  It appears the lack of accurate data concerning the last time radar bounced off Flight MH370 and the lack of any distress signals or transponder “pings” may have erroneously directed the searchers in the wrong direction.  That is hard to determine at this time.  Surely with each passing hour without finding a trace significantly diminishes the chances of rescuing possible survivors. 


Even the most cursory glance of the statistics of commercial aviation over the last 35 years clearly illustrate, considering the millions of in-flight hours, that flying is generally speaking the safest mode of commercial transportation.  The numbers of flights into and out of American airports per day and the massive numbers of passengers moved is staggering.  At any given time of the day or night there are approximately 3,620 commercial air planes over the continental United States.  More Americans die in a one month period on our surface roads, highways and byways in one month than have died due to fatal aviation events collectively over the last 6 years.  The comparison as a simple ratio proves this point unequivocally.  The aviation industry learned many of its lessons the hard way.  Flawed design, in flight stresses, structural load were the cause of most of the fatal flights well into the 1960’s.  Throughout the 1970’s with the advent of modern technology in the form of Computer Aided Design (CAD),
Vital advancements in materials sciences such as metallurgy, plastics, insulations, and epoxies dramatically altered the way planes were designed and constructed while more regulated maintenance and service standards were initiated due to increased scrutiny from Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) and the fledgling National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency tasked with investigating accidents in all modes of the transportation industry from trucking to flying.

The forward progress propelled commercial aviation (and, for that matter, Military aviation as well) to newer and safer methods of developing and incorporating the latest advances in sophisticated technology and all the corollary branches of the sciences thereby heralding a new age in commercial flight.  Since the late 1970’s aviation accidents, be they midair collisions, catastrophic failures, human error, natural anomalies and even on the tarmacs around the world have declined to be, not that any loss of life is not awful, statistically negligible.

The flying public has enormous confidence in the flying industry and that too can be statistically tracked; every year the number of commercial passenger flyers increases.  There are those in certain businesses that fly as regularly as others walk, drive or take mass transit to work every day.  It is not uncommon for these frequent flyers to amass anywhere from 5 to 25,000 air born miles annually.  If ever there was an American industry that grew at such an amazing pace as aviation it is hard to find.  From the Wright Brothers initial first flight at Kitty Hawk to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking the dusty plain of Tranquility Bay on the Lunar surface a scant 60 years separated those two historic achievements.  Think about that fact for a moment, if you will.  It almost boggles the mind to consider the tremendous amounts of intelligence, imagination, engineering, and the constant unrestrained march forward that took man from a sandy beach in North Carolina to our most visible and close celestial relative, the Moon.


All of the sophisticated technology at our disposal today does not protect us from, nor immunize us against, mysteries.  Happenstance and circumstance are as prevalent today as they were during the Stone Age.  For all the vast quantities of knowledge we’ve acquired, accumulated, documented and proven since the dawn of civilization that has been expanded upon exponentially in the last 100 years, there remains so much unknown and, quite possibly, unknowable.  Our world, the nature of our being, sentience and workings of our brains retain their secrets as do the cold, dark depths of our oceans.  Oddly, the total vacuum of space is more accessible than the deepest water covered terrains on Earth. There have been periods in the past where we made huge strides in understanding of our physical world and in medical science.  The high technology age we are still in began in earnest perhaps with the Manhattan Project during World War II that produced controllable nuclear fission initially for use as a weapon of mass destruction and afterwards as a source of relatively clean, affordable energy.

The Digital Age was born full term when President Bill Clinton predicted in 1992 that technology; networking and even unforeseen applications were providing us entry onto the “Information Superhighway”.  And that it has done beyond even some of the most forward leaning minds in the field back in the 1990’s.  Our world today is defined by devices and capabilities; by such sophisticated technology that it is now everything from our communications and power grid, economy, trade and all the other elements of a globalized world and it is the fiber optic cables that weave this intricate, complex tapestry together.

So we read about a jumbo jet suddenly vanishing from the skies as if into some sort of stratospheric “Bermuda Triangle” and have difficulty understanding the difficulties of locating this missing aircraft.  As the science and craft of aviation developed there were instances that remain mysteries.  The female aviator Emilia Clark’s plane has never been located and an entire squadron of Army Air Corps B-25 planes vanished without a trace after a training mission in 1944.  Yes, by today’s standards the capabilities available in those much earlier days of manned flight seems dangerously, actually recklessly primitive. We have such confidence and reliance on our digital devices, networks, advanced radar, sonar and technological prowess that we give little thought to how it works and what its limitations are.  Oh yes, it all comes with some degree of limitations.

When NASA landed two men on the Moon and safely returned them to the Earth they did so armed only with slide rulers and tables compiled from what was at the day cutting edge machinery, massive house sized computers that could only read the punch cards fed by hand into the machine.  There is more memory by a factor of several thousand megabytes in an iPad of today than the 64 bytes in the Lunar Capsule in July 1969.  Much of the technology developed during the “Space Race” had applications on Earth; from materials and the miniaturization and computing capacity of silicon chips, to strides in a wide array of the sciences, NASA provided a Return on Investment more than the entire SkyLab, Shuttle, and Space Station Earth orbiting vessels have collectively. But here on Earth we have so much more to learn and, although the demise of MH370 might remain a mystery forever, it is a tragic mass fatality event and a harsh cup of cold reality tossed in the face of our high-tech world where knowledge is a Google search away; we communicate with people half a world away via satellite, organ transplants and imaging modalities have revolutionized how the diagnosis and treatment of patients is conducted.  Sometimes it just seems like there is nothing we cannot do; that there is an “App” for everything and anything and if a system “crashes” for a mere hour or two millions of users around the world feel untethered and lost.

We need to remain a respectful sense of humility; we are often humbled by the forces of nature that have been the arbiters of our biosphere, ecosystem and atmosphere for several hundred millions of years; a length of time it is truly difficult to comprehend given our oh so brief time on Earth.

For the time being we are left with a profound mystery.  Mystery not only surrounds the disappearance of the plane and all its contents.  The possible reasons for what precisely brought this plane from out of the sky to God knows where are already generating the usual conspiracy theorists.  Sure, anything is possible.  It could have been some catastrophic systemic failure that occurred in a nanosecond; it could have been a bomb, some sort of terrorist event, it may have been mistakenly shot down by the military of any of the countries in the region.  The pilot or pilots may have deliberately crashed their jet.  Conjecture and supposition is the coin of the realm today as the search continues.

Mystery, sometimes very heart breaking mystery keeps us grounded.  No matter our sophistication and all that we can do, there will always be the next Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy or Andy, a South Pacific tsunami, earthquake, drought or any number of the arrows Mother Nature has in her quiver.  She largely allows us to think we are in control, that we have mastered our environment from the microbial level to the universal laws.  But every now and then she slaps us with some calamity and it is Her, perhaps, who took Flight MH370 and left us to figure out where it is.

(Some of these links have excellent graphics)

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