The news media and the internet in general is abuzz about the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian airliner on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and we are at the stage where theories as to what happened are getting increasingly exotic. I have not been following the story closely because it seems likely that despite the fervent hopes of people who had loved ones on it that the plane might have landed somewhere, the sad truth is that it did crash into the ocean and that everyone perished and that eventually the wreckage will be discovered and the cause determined.
Jim Wright, a retired US Navy officer with an extensive background in military intelligence and who has experience in searching for people lost at sea, gives all the reasons why not being able to find debris or oil slicks so far is unsurprising. It basically boils down to the fact that the ocean is a really, really big place and there is no better substitute to human beings visually scanning the surface and that can take a long, long time. For example, light jet fuel from a plane like this is not like heavy crude oil. It would last for just a sort while before being broken up and evaporating and while it lasts would occupy about one square mile, while a “standard search area, a rectangle 50 miles wide by 200 miles say, along the airplane’s flight path might encompass TEN THOUSAND square miles”, all of which has to be searched by human eyes.
He examines the various theories being put forward and why they are unlikely to be true. He says that the best thing to do is simply wait until the authorities and experts figure out what happened and not pay attention to all the wide-eyed pundits in the media who are filling in airtime with wild theories. These can only add to the excruciating pain of those waiting anxiously for news, hoping against hope that their loved ones somehow survived.
Even if, against all odds, one of the outlandish theories happen to be true, surely it is better to have a happy surprise when one is resigned to the worst than to have one’s hopes repeatedly raised only to have them dashed.