Two days after the disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, even the debris has not been traced. It is suspected to have crashed into the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. Neither the fleet of ships and rescue vessels nor aircraft pressed into an emergency search operation has located any sign of wreckage at sea, except for an oil slick. The Malaysian authorities have taken the initiative to start an international investigation. With five of the 239 passengers and crew killed in the crash being Indians, the DGCA is also joining the probe. The one disturbing evidence on Day 1 of the investigation was that two of the passengers were travelling on fake, probably stolen, passports. But the authorities do not want to jump to the conclusion that it was an act of terrorism. The Boeing 777 has earned a reputation as a safe long-haul aircraft. After the 2013 Asiana Airlines crash, this is only the second tragedy involving this aircraft type in the nearly two decades it has been in operation. Malaysian Airlines will certainly want to get to the bottom of this tragedy in order to maintain its reputation for safety in a very competitive environment. Given the close cooperation in the Southeast Asian region, all the countries are pooling their resources to find the cause of the crash.

The only premise the investigators have begun with is that the end was “sudden and violent.” There was no report of bad weather and the aircraft was cruising at about 35,000 feet above sea level. The pilots did not radio for help and there was no emergency bleep. The plane just vanished from the radar hardly an hour after take-off. There is also the theory that it tried to turn back to Malaysia. Experts have offered several explanations. First on their list was structural failure in the fuselage, which could result in the splitting up of the body. The second was bad weather, of which there is no evidence. Was it an act of terror? And finally, could it have been the rare case of human failure or a suicidal streak? Until the debris is recovered, the investigation cannot proceed. Aviation experts are of the view that the size of the debris spread could provide a useful starting point for any serious investigation. That could give an indication whether the aircraft suffered an explosion, got split in the air, or just plunged into the sea and broke up. Once that is known, the investigators could proceed with a particular line of enquiry. Since there are no survivors, nothing can be verified as such. It is in the interests of all airlines, passengers and aircraft manufacturers to uncover the mystery behind this unfortunate tragedy and draw the lessons.

More In: Editorial | Opinion