This past Saturday, Malaysian Airlines passenger plane MH370 disappeared from radar with 239 people on board while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. No one knows where it is, or what happened to it. In modern day society, we chip our pets, LoJack our cars, and have various Find My Phone apps we can locate just about any kind of technology should we lose it. So why cant we locate a huge piece of equipment full of tracking instruments and people?
Authorities discovered that a couple passengers aboard the flight had stolen passports, and while that may lead you to wonder if the plane was hijacked, authorities noted that stolen passports are actually quite common in the region thanks to illegal immigrants seeking passage elsewhere. The plane disappeared without a distress call during what is considered the safest part of a flight the cruise portion coasting toward its destination 35,000 feet in the air, free of hazardous weather. Radar pinpoints the plane as being just south of Vietnam in the South China Sea when officials lost contact, but there have been reports that it possibly turned back the way it came, making the search effort even more difficult.
Since the plane went missing, around 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine nations have joined in the search, but have so far turned up nothing. Everyone knows about a planes black box, which is a flight recorder fitted with a radio beacon that can be picked up by radar. Its geared toward being useful during recovery so it can be found, it will ping for at least one month but not during a crisis. So, in this age of Google Maps being able to look into your bedroom skylight and our smart phones being able to give us live traffic reports, why cant we find a giant plane that is full of radar and other fancy tech that consumer products dont have?
Basically, a plane stuffed full of high-tech instruments flying at 35,000 feet in the air over an ocean is much more difficult to track than your phone that was stolen at a bar. Its upsetting and troubling, but the vastness of the sea and the speed of a plane mean the area to search is huge and the depths are tremendous. Given the lack of connectivity in these areas and the limitations of satellites coverage, only so much can be done on over a weekend.
We dont yet know what happened to Flight 370, but barring being hijacked by tech-savvy terrorists or abducted by aliens, the plane was probably lost due to some combination of equipment malfunctioning that disrupted the tracking and communication signals. If a guy steals your phone at a bar and removes its signal tossing it into an elevator or wrapping it in tinfoil, for example its not going to be found either.
There are always ways to spruce up plane safety and tracking a more rapid ping, utilizing more communication channels, and so on. Hopefully the plane or at least, the black box is found, but either way, perhaps the tragedy will spur airlines to take even more precautions than they already do.