Of course it should not have happened. But it did.
Speculation and conspiracy theories—which rushed to fill the void of hard facts—won’t find the aircraft or help those most in need: the family and friends of those missing, including the many people at Malaysia Airlines who found themselves dealing with an unprecedented situation.
If any government authority hid information that could have helped locate this Boeing 777-200 earlier, then that is a moral travesty and something to be addressed later as part of the investigation. But, like all the other speculation, there is no concrete evidence of this—and the US and China are the last nations in a position to point fingers on military disinformation. China’s CAAC was wrong to make its accusations. IATA DG and CEO Tony Tyler was right to point out that in the ever-widening and baffling search for MH370, it was not the time for criticizing—it was a time for getting on with the job.
Nevertheless, news from Malaysia’s prime minister that the aircraft’s transponders were deliberately turned off by someone onboard and that the aircraft likely flew for some hours afterward on a track completely away from its planned flight path is shocking. Confidence in the airline industry will take a hit from this despite its unparalleled safety standards, transporting some nine million people a day to destinations round the world and with more than 6,000 people boarding an aircraft every minute.
It is imperative to find the answers to who did this, why and how.
Separately, the industry should begin work on identifying how best to identify and utilize some type of subset of data from the enormous amount of information that modern airliners produce on their health and whereabouts. That capability could potentially prevent a future airliner from simply vanishing off radar and vastly help narrow a search and rescue operation. And work must be done to prevent aircraft transponders being turned off with ill-intent.
The fact is that two of the most recent and catastrophic modern airliner events—that of Air France Flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 and MH370—had one thing in common. Both aircraft “vanished” from ATC tracking and required extensive search efforts.
New lessons will be learned from MH370 and new solutions will have to be found.