What My Affliction with Airplane Incident Obsession Syndrome Tells Me About What Happened to Flight MH370


Note:  This post discusses airplane incidents.  If you are scared of flying, know of someone who passed away in an airplane incident or think that airplane crashes should not be subject of casual discussion because of human lives at issue, please stop reading.  

I have a rare and disturbing disease that I have termed “Airplane Incident Obsession Syndrome,” or AIOS.  It manifests itself with symptoms such as religiously watching the TV series called “Mayday!,” a highly-acclaimed Canadian documentary that goes into depth of what went went wrong in airplane incidents, or obsessively following updates on latest airplane incidents.

I think I first caught the AIOS bug in college when I had a roommate who showed his passion for flying by demonstrating a computer program called Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I confess I didn’t have too much interest in his navigating the virtual controls to simulate actual flying, but my eyes popped wide open when, as an aside, he showed me videos like this of wild landings at Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport.

This fascination with “crazy things that end well” was rather harmless, but my AIOS increasingly became more severe over the years to the point that I now enjoy bumpy rides on airplanes, look forward to the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign and feel anticipation from the prospect of “what may come” when I board a three decade-old Boeing 727 flown by a discount airliner.

For a person afflicted with AIOS, the case of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared somewhere off the western coast of Australia on its way from Malaysia to China on March 8, 2014, is like giving cocaine to a drug addict.  What we have come to learn about the plane over the course of nearly a year, together with all that we still don’t know, makes the incident the biggest mystery in the history of modern jet aviation incidents.  Those with AIOS can obsess endlessly about what happened to the plane because no one theory provides a compelling explanation.

(For background on what we know of the flight so far, please see the always-helpful Wikipedia)

Take, for example, the theory that the flight was a target of a terrorist attack.  This would explain why the plane suddenly turned away from its destination and why the plane’s two transponders, which make tracking of planes by air traffic control radar possible, were shut off so close in time: both were done intentionally in order to serve some malevolent purpose in secrecy.

The flaws with this theory are numerous, though.  For starters, if there were terrorists taking passengers hostage, why were there no demands made?  Or if there was a 9/11-like terrorist attack, why did the plane keep on flying for five hours after the change of direction and shutting off of transponders, only to crash in the middle of an ocean?  And in any case, why has no group triumphantly claimed responsibility?

Alternatively, take the more likely scenario of a sudden emergency.  For example, transponders can go down if there is a fire on the plane (as in Swissair Flight 111) or a plane can experience sudden change in course and erratic/uneven change in altitude if there is mechanical or system failure (as in Japan Airlines Flight 123).  Yet it seems highly unlikely that MH370 could have kept on flying for five hours with any issue that seriously crippled the plane.

Perhaps the way to solve the mystery is by approaching the problem from a different angle.  There is actually precedent (Helios Airways Flight 522) for a plane flying for hours on autopilot with unconscious crew and passengers after pilot error.  Something similar may have happened to MH370.

But this theory, along with all others, doesn’t adequately explain the greatest mystery of all:  that nine months after the plane went missing, we still have not found a single debris.  Since the plane did not land, the plane must have crashed, whether due to terrorist hijacking, mechanical failure or pilot error, and crashed planes always leave a debris.  Even in the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, debris was discovered mere five days after it went missing even as it took two years to locate the fuselage.

Since no single theory based on past incidents can adequately explain what happened to Flight 370, I’m forced to speculate by piecing together different scenarios:

MH370 experienced a sudden mechanical failure which resulted in electrical failure that shut down most of the communication systems but left key flying instruments intact.  While pilots attempted to address the issue, the problem escalated into massive loss of cabin pressure.  The pilots descended the plane in response, but most of the crew lost consciousness in the interim.  One pilot did remain conscious, though, and tried to make an emergency landing on water as fuel ran out. He nearly succeeded, thereby keeping the fuselage mostly intact.  The plane, though, sank when no one came to the rescue.

Is this scenario highly unlikely?  Yes.  For starters, successful water landing is extraordinarily hard to achieve.  But what else could possibly explain what happened to the flight?

My AIOS makes me really want to know.

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