MH370: Unique disaster exposes troubling gaps

MH370: Unique disaster exposes troubling gaps

Confirmation that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane had met a tragic end offers a crucial piece of an unprecedented puzzle that will remain achingly unsolved till what precisely had happened is known. Leaving aside the critical moments onboard that led to its initial disappearance, retracing its bizarre trajectory thereafter, that ended in the southern extremity of the Indian Ocean, had challenged several countries for 17 days.

Incredulous air travellers, who expect military trackers to be wary about disclosing their full capabilities, are coming around to the view that significant gaps exist in the civilian sector, despite advances in detection and monitoring technologies.

The aviation authorities might also grudgingly accept that tapping and making sense of all the data that it is now possible to capture is akin to negotiating a maze when many nations are involved and when sophisticated data analysis tools are in short supply.

The Chinese government's request to review British satellite data, from which the crash verdict was drawn, is representative of the befuddlement that this strange occurrence has induced in many quarters.

What has been clearly absent in international preparedness for such an incident can be partly made up for through multi-national recovery efforts to locate wreckage and the voice and flight data recorders - with under two weeks to go before the black box battery gives up the ghost.

It is anticipated advanced undersea capabilities possessed by the United States and Chinese navies will be required to retrieve wreckage from the ocean floor, which is up to 4km down in the waters near Antarctica.

Not ever knowing what did happen is a possibility that has to be considered if vital parts of the plane are never recovered, or if tell-tale signs are degraded. Closure is a much abused word to describe acceptance by those affected by traumatic events, but few of these people will ever know finality until the truth is determined.

The aviation industry will have lots to digest of this event. Foremost is reinforcement of the international convention that no gaps be permitted in the tracking of commercial flights. Needless to say, boarding procedures must be relooked to screen out imposters. Design improvements to eliminate tampering with communication systems should also be reviewed in flight deck operations. Training of and background checks on pilots will also have to be stepped up.

The Malaysian authorities, who had worked hard to stay on top of the crisis, must acknowledge the shortcomings of top-level coordination and communications that the disaster exposed. The lack of facts and conflicting explanations had left many in a vortex of despair and hope. For all to learn from the tragedy, transparency will be needed.


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