Published: March 17, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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There’s a strange thing about real life stories that make them more compelling than fiction. The random chances of life intrude in such a way that we are left to make sense out of a cloud of unanswerable questions.

Such has been the case with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In 10 days we have gone from initial reports of massive mechanical failure to a possible highjacking, perhaps by one or both pilots. However, the aircraft in question was a Boeing 777 state-of-the-art, fly-by-wire airplane with an excellent safety record, reducing the possibility of mechanical error.

According to only the latest in a string of breaking news stories, investigators now believe that there was “deliberate action by someone on the plane” that led to the aircraft’s disappearance. Compounding the mystery is the fact that searchers have located no debris, no eyewitnesses and few clues as to why the plane seemingly vanished into thin air with 239 souls on board.

National, international and geopolitical issues are being scrutinized to try and determine a motive, but any information,all information only leads investigators to more questions; questions with no clear answer. In the absence of hard, verifiable information, all of this becomes food for conspiracy theorists. Remember TWA Flight 800?

On July 17 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the ocean near East Moriches, New York shortly after leaving JFK airport, killing everyone on board. Conspiracy theoristsclaimed that the plane was taken down by a Navy ship’s surface-to-air missile, then covered-up by the government as a “friendly fire” incident. The theory gained traction presumably based on photo analysis of pictures taken at a backyard party and the location of military ships in the area.

After an exhaustive investigation, the FBI concluded that no evidence had been found to support a criminal or terrorist attack.

The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash for four years, concluding that the probable cause was something far less sinister: an electrical short led to an explosion of flammable air vapors in a fuel tank. The results led to safety changes in the manufacture of aircraft fuel tanks.

People want answers, and in the absence of hard evidence, they will believe most any speculation that comes along, especially if it’s passed along on the Internet, (Why? I don’t have a viable theory for that one. I am not against conspiracy theories. I just don’t use them as a default setting before real investigations have concluded.)

Meanwhile, the media has descended upon the missing Malaysian flight with a virtual army of pilots, experts, lawyers, lawyers who are pilots, flight safety experts, national security analysts, former military and FAA experts to help sift through the drip of data that leaks out daily to try and explain whatcould have happened.

The search has taken investigators from the area around the last known report of communication to two immense areas in the Indian Ocean, and now possibly two trajectories thousands of miles apart. Reporters have interviewed Malaysian officials, friends of the pilots, and have begun a rigorous investigation into two of the passengers that were on the plane with stolen passports. The number of “working scenarios” has grown from a handful to far too many to list here. All of this adds layer upon layer of information, sometimes conflicting.

It’s interesting to note that in most aviation disasters, the search narrows after time. In the case of Malaysia Flight 370, it has expanded due to an analysis of the current data leading investigators to believe that whatever happened to the flight was no accident.

The problem is this: as technically sophisticated as we like to think we are with communications, international tracking, radar, surveillance cameras and satellite imaging, NOBODY knows what happened. Nobody knows where the plane is or has crashed or perhaps landed somewhere. This is not only tragic for the families of the passengers, but it leaves most of us with the disquieting feeling of a lack of control. We feel that if we know what happened, and why it happened, we can make better sense of the world around us.

As busy and connected as we like to think we are, there are times when things happen that, for an undetermined length of time, don’t make sense.

While the media has inundated us with facts, theories, expert opinions and speculation, what concerns me most, from an ethical standpoint, is how easy it is for many of us to jump to our own conclusions regarding the motives and actions of those on board Flight 370 before all the evidence is in.

When investigators ultimately locate Malaysia Flight 370 we will learn the truth after the data recorders and wreckage is analyzed. For now, speculation by those not directly connected to the investigation is not only unproductive, it degrades the integrity of the process.


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