MH370: Four weeks on, still no dawn

MH370: Four weeks on, still no dawn

This is the art of darkness.

A 270 tonne plane - recently checked by engineers and carrying comfortably less than a full load - leaps smoothly into an inky night and levels off, heading north to Beijing.

The conversation from the cockpit is relaxed and routine up until the final goodnight to Malaysian Air Traffic Control, as it hands over to Vietnam. Minutes later, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370's communications systems shut down and, without a word, it sharply reverses course, heading out to the Malacca Strait.

An hour later, the plane, with 239 people on board, drops off even Malaysia's sophisticated Marconi military radar to stay untraceable since.

What devilish hand could have contrived this outrage that took parent from child, sister from brother, and wife from husband? Somebody in the cockpit, an intruder who dashed in while a pilot stepped out for a toilet break?

A sudden systems failure that the pilots valiantly sought to fight till the end? Did the high number of lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold catch fire or were explosives packed in among the cargo of mangosteens on board?

A week later, and a stunning revelation from the country's leader who had stayed on the sidelines, allowing his Defence and Acting Transport Minister to front press briefings, itself a rarity since it is airlines, not governments, that usually fulfil this responsibility.

"Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed.

The first and only credible suggestion yet that a human hand was responsible. But whose?

An aviation first

A month after Flight MH370 was lost, the world remains transfixed by the plane's saga. Newspapers around the globe continue to give it acres of space; television channels offer hourly updates.

Not surprising, perhaps.

From the time China invented kites more than 2,000 years ago, man has been fascinated by flight. In Greek mythology, Icarus grew wings and perished only because he flew too close to the sun.

The Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci drew detailed plans for a flying machine as early as 1485. Hindus consider the mythical humanoid bird Garuda the mount of the god Vishnu, the Preserver.

Garuda, Indonesia's national symbol, is also the mascot of its flag carrier.

But the thrill of flight has always come mixed with the fear of flying, and this perhaps explains our fascination with MH370, even as not even a pillow or blanket from the aircraft has been found so far.

The noted Sri Lankan journalist Rita Sebastian, who died 18 years ago this month, cheerfully dodged bullets from Tamil separatists in the north of the island and a Marxist insurgency in the south, over a long career.

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