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THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MALAYSIAN PLANE

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Indian sand artist Sudersan Pattnaik does a sand sculpture with a message of prayer for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. AFP PHOTO 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Posted  Friday, March 14  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

For five days now, no sight has been made of the plane that left Malaysia for China, last Saturday. No one seems to have a clue as to what might have happened, making the whole incident look eerie.

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The Boeing 777 is one of the world’s most reliable aircraft. It has an excellent safety record. According to Richard Quest, CNN’s aviation correspondent, the jetliner is built with high tech Aircraft Communications and Reporting Systems. Despite this status, last Saturday, March 8, a Malaysian Boeing 777 went “missing”. The plane had 239 people on board.

You must have read all about this by now, but it will not harm to give a little background. So, the Beijing bound plane left Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital on Saturday morning. It was slated to reach its destination on the same day. However, about an hour after taking off, air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane when it was flying over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. The flight just vanished. Literally. No distress signals were sent. It is reported that the plane changed course around the time it lost contact with the controllers.
The incident presented to the aviation world a case experts have termed as mysterious. All the possible theories to explain the occurrence have been challenged. The absence of an unchallenged theory is what is puzzling.
Captain Gad Gasatura, a Ugandan retired commercial pilot and certified aircraft engineer, says the flight’s likely fate is currently in the hands of speculation.

“It is strange that a plane as big as the Boeing 777 could disappear and no exact explanation can be attached to its disappearance. If, say it had crashed in the sea, its emergency beacon would have transmitted the aircraft’s location.

“The beacons are activated by impact on land or water. If the flight had crashed in water or on land it would have been known by now. Their batteries last long, so it is surprising that days after the crash, nothing has come through,” he says. “If it had crashed and sank in the sea, like some theories seem to suggest, by all means, some of its parts would float. The other claim is that it might have been bombed but the explosion have been captured by the satellites.”

Hard for a Boeing to go unnoticed
Although people talk about a slim possibility that the plane could have been detoured by terrorists, he rules this out, stating it is impossible for the terrorists to land a plane as big as the Boeing 777, anywhere, without being noticed. “On the other hand, at least one of the passengers would have made a frantic call to inform the folk on the land about the situation. That is what passengers did when the planes which crashed into the World Trade Centre were hijacked by terrorists. Until the plane is found, it will be challenging to know what happened.”
Is this incident the first of its kind? Captain Francis Babu answers in the negative. “There is an Air France plane which was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris and it crashed in an area beyond radar coverage. It took a number of days to locate its wreckage and the bodies,” he says. This incident took place in 2009.

Big search on
The BBC reported that at least 40 ships and 34 aircraft from different countries are taking part in the search of the Malaysian plane. The Malaysian authorities began their hunt where the plane was last known to be, a spot over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. With no debris found, they expanded their search to include areas where the plane could have ended up, given the amount of fuel it had.

A number of misleading hints have been come across. A rescue team saw a yellow object floating in Vietnamese waters hoping it was a life raft, but it turned out to be unrelated debris. Oil slicks were seen in the South China Sea on Saturday, but after sending a sample to a laboratory it was established that it was not from an aircraft at all.
What is the likelihood of such an incident? Babu responds; “Aviation is built on accidents. If one occurs, a lesson is learnt and improvements are made to stem it from ever occurring. An example is of how the industry had fallen prey to terrorists. That is why, today, you see people being thoroughly checked at airports before getting on a plane. So you cannot tell until it has happened.”
What is certain is that this is one incident that has gripped the whole world with people eagerly awaiting any news.

PLANES VANISHING
Air France Flight 447: In 2009 a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 228 passengers and crew. After days of searching, wreckage was spotted and eventually recovered. But the bodies of 74 passengers were never located, and it took three years to conclude that the crash had been caused by a combination of ice build-up, mechanical failure and pilot error.

British South American Airways: It took more than 50 years to find any trace of the 11 people aboard a 1947 flight that disappeared in the Andes Mountains in South America. A pair of Argentinian rock climbers discovered engine wreckage in the Andes in 1998, and an army expedition later found human remains as well. Some say the plane caused an avalanche when it crashed into a mountain and was buried in the snow.

THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
Bermuda triangle also known as the devil’s triangle is a large area of ocean between Florida, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. It is thought that dozens of ships and planes have disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the area. The myth started in 1950 when an article in the Associated Press reported the vanishing of several planes and individuals. These were unaccounted for.

Fingers were pointing at alien life forms as having swallowed the wreckage and bodies. However, in 1975, author Larry Kusche challenged the Bermuda myth. After extensive research about the subject, he concluded that previous Bermuda Triangle authors did not do their research and either knowingly or unintentionally “made it up”..

atumusiime@ug.nationmedia.com