The sighting of objects that could be debris from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, about 2,500 km from Perth, brings partial closure to the mystery over the missing aircraft. The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 when it was headimg for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board. The theories surrounding the flight vanishing from radars across South East Asia will be put to rest only when the black box or other evidence is recovered from the depths of the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is supposed to have plunged. Recovery of debris is difficult here. This part of the Ocean, about two miles deep in places, is home to the ‘roaring forties’ where wind speeds routinely range between 30 and 40 mph, and witnesses some of the largest waves. As for the aircraft’s disappearance, one hypothesis advanced is that the plane’s transponders, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, and radio failed more or less at the same time. But experts say it is highly improbable that the systems malfunctioned without any attempt being made to convey distress and that, at the same time, the plane continued flying without being detected for hours after that. The other speculation is that the crew changed the course. This theory gains credibility because the plane made three course changes and two altitude changes. Changing course mid-way needs human intervention. Available evidence indicates a deliberate act on the part of the pilot or the co-pilot. A multinational team led by Australia, and with experts and resources from 26 countries, is working to get to the bottom of the issue.
Usually, after every such disaster new regulations are put in place to ensure that safety, navigation and tracking technologies are foolproof, and that mistakes do not recur. The Boeing 777, which entered service in 1995, is the workhorse of many airlines across the world. It has an enviable safety record — the only crash that resulted in a few fatalities has been that of an Asiana flight in San Francisco in 2013. The Malaysian disaster will end up focussing more on the people who operate the machines. Psychiatrists say a test will not reveal a person’s intentions if he or she chooses not to answer queries honestly. In an era where safety cannot be taken for granted, it is vital for experts in security, technology, transportation and manufacturing to sit together and spell out concrete proposals to make air travel safer. Apart from delivering on technological solutions, experts may now have to factor in the airworthiness of commercial airline crew – spread over, on an average, 52 aircraft worldwide every minute. The search for and the investigation of MH370 should provide some clues to what needs to be done to safeguard against both technical flaws and human subversion.