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MISSING MAS FLIGHT: Vanishing into thin air

Publication Date : 12-03-2014


In my column on Oct 12, 2012, I wrote about wishing Malaysia could someday command the attention of the world. This was in relation to the way Korea basked in the international limelight with Psy’s Gangnam Style music video.

As they say, be careful what you wish for because we are in the spotlight all right these last few days but it is certainly not the kind of intense scrutiny I was wishing for.

Rather, it’s the worst kind of publicity any nation would want because it is due to a disaster.

Of course, losing a plane pales in comparison to the disasters other countries have experienced like Japan’s 2011 tsunami or the Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan last year. But the manner we lost so many people in one fell swoop is what makes it such a horrible nightmare.

It’s been five days and despite the multi-national search efforts, there has been no trace of the aircraft.

It is as if it vanished into thin air, causing the Department of Civil Aviation director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman to describe it as an “unprecedented aviation mystery”.

Unlike other air disasters where the causes were known like the plane veering off the runway or crashing into a mountain, absolutely nothing can be confirmed for MH370 which disappeared off the radar in the early hours of Saturday after departing from KLIA for Beijing.

And that makes it more chilling because for everyone now who boards a plane, there is that thought: Can it happen again?

But because nothing of the aircraft has been found, hope floats and many secretly cling to the belief against all odds that the plane landed­ somewhere somehow, like in the TV series, Lost.

It’s far-fetched indeed but who can blame anyone for wanting to believe in the impossible at a time like this, especially when there are still reports from China that relatives are getting ringing tones from mobile phones of their kin on MH370.

For five days now, the local and international media have been chasing­ down every possible lead that pops up, only to have every one debunked.

It’s as intense and exhausting as it can possibly get. There is also fierce competition among the media to get exclusives and insider information. There were 239 lives on board – 227 passengers and 12 crew – and suddenly everyone wants to know about them. So much so, MAS sent an e-mail appeal to the media to back off and give their grieving next of kin space and privacy.

As much as many of us are in denial and want to live in hope of a miracle, it is most likely MH370 will go down in history as the deadliest aviation disaster since November 2001, when an American Airlines Airbus A300 carrying 265 people crashed shortly after take-off from JFK Airport. Also killed were five people on the ground.

While the speculation over what happened continues unabated, the only small consolation is how this tragedy has shaken up the whole country and the recent tensions and angst over religious issues, water woes and politics have been forgotten.

At least for the moment, we are united in grief. Malaysians of all races and creeds have come together to console, to pray and to hope, together with people from around the world.

In a strange and uncanny way, this tragedy has brought out the best in people, apart from the sickos who cannot resist spewing nonsensical venom.

Up to yesterday, the focus was on the two passengers who used stolen Italian and Austrian passports which opened up a huge can of worms over airport security and passport checks.

There was much speculation over these two being in cahoots since they bought their tickets together and the possibility of terrorism at work. But BBC has now reported the two were Iranians: One a 19-year-old who was trying to sneak into Frankfurt to be with his mother while the other was aiming to get to Amsterdam.

With the terrorism theory deflating, the speculation has grown wilder­ with suggestions of stealth aircraft or even a UFO involved.

It may take days or years before we know anything ... or nothing.

Then it would be an eerie repeat of Malaysia Airlines’ air disaster of 1977.

That was Flight 653 which crashed in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, on Dec 4.

Until MH370, it was the worst disaster for MAS with 93 passengers and seven crew members killed.

Eyewitnesses reported that the plane hit the ground at high speed from a near vertical angle.

The pilot, Captain G.K. Ganjoor, had earlier radioed that a hijacker had taken over the plane.

The flight recorder or black box was recovered. But what transpired in the cockpit was never revealed.

My dad who was in Special Branch heard the recording and said it was one of the most chilling experiences of his life but declined to reveal anything, the good SB officer that he was.

The identity of the hijacker was never established and what happened on Flight 653 remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

May history not repeat itself with MH370.


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