The search for the missing Malaysian airlines flight MH370 has been going on now for more than a month, with a sighting of the wreckage looking as remote as it did at the beginning. Many people are keen to understand just how a massive boeing 777 can simply disappear from our skies, along with 229 crew and passengers. However, for those who have family or friends on the passenger list, it is a desperate time, waiting to hear any scrap of news about their loved ones.
The task facing the Malaysian authorities and the international rescue workers is daunting; the sheer scale of the search area is huge, at one point the search zone accounted for about 11% of the Indian Ocean, which is about 1.5% of the earth’s surface. Even though almost 44 countries are involved in the operations, it is difficult to imagine how it is even possible to go about such an operation, let alone deal with the world’s media which is waiting, not-so-patiently, for answers and results.
The search currently hinges on the detection of pinger signals (acoustic pulses) from the plane’s data recording device, the black box. Having picked up what the authorities reckon to be signals from the remains of the plane, the international effort has been able to focus on a 600 sq mile zone which is off the Southwestern tip of Australia. While it may seem that the search teams are making headway by closing in on where they think the black box is, the sad fact is that no single piece of wreckage or debris has been formally identified as part of MH370, so the location of the wreckage is still unknown.
The image of flying as a safe way to travel inevitably affected by such an event, even though flying is much safer than many other forms of transport which people use on a daily basis and this is because the aftermath of a serious aviation disaster seems more frightening than a car crash. While this will not last forever, our perception of air travel as safe has hindered this investigation, as we simply assume that it is highly unlikely for a plane to fall from the sky and for the authorities to not be able to explain why straight away. This then puts extra pressure on the rescue efforts to produce results quickly despite the task being a very unusual one.
The sad reality is that the parents, children and partners of those 239 people who lost their lives on MH370 knew that their relations were dead, ages ago, and yet we are still a long way from reaching any satisfactory answers as to how a plane, with an impressive safety record, can simply vanish.