On the EDge: The mystery of MH370

OPINION – When I spent several days with the Utah National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery as it prepared at Fort Irwin in the California desert for deployment to Iraq a number of years ago, I saw some amazing technology.

In fact, at one point, one of the soldiers turned on a piece of equipment that showed a live streaming view of downtown Baghdad and, yes, you could read license plates on passing vehicles, and yes, you could distinguish facial features from an image that was picked up by a satellite orbiting far above the Earth’s surface.

The picture could focus from street to street, could zoom in on various sections of town, could find whatever the soldiers were looking for in the heated desert.

The satellite could pin down Baghdad or any other city the soldiers deemed important.

That’s why more than two weeks into the investigation of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, I find it incredible that only a few pieces of debris, which may or may not be from the aircraft, have been found floating in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 miles west of Australia.

The plane disappeared on March 8. On Monday, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced that investigators have concluded that the plane went down in Indian Ocean, somewhere west of Australia. Radar and satellites have picked up some sort of debris floating in the area, but none has been collected to conclusively identify it as part of the wreckage.

There is more than one satellite in the heavens that is equipped with this technology, and a satellite’s orbit can be altered. Satellites in low-altitude orbit can circle the Earth about 14 times a day. Over the course of several days, it will have covered the entire planet.

Why then did the fate of the 239 souls aboard MH370 remain such a mystery for so long?

Besides the closure discovery of the plane will bring to families of those who were on-board, there is also, until debris is found and identified, the uneasiness associated with wondering if the plane is, indeed, sitting on the floor of the Indian Ocean or in a clandestine hangar in either Kazakhstan or Afghanistan.

One of the biggest problems, of course, is that the Malaysian government has not been forthcoming in updating the world during the course of the investigation.

There has also been a bit of an attitude problem as well. When the plane first went missing, Malaysian officials pretty much kept other nations at bay. They didn’t ask for help or outside tracking data, they didn’t offer many details, they projected an air of confidence, giving the appearance that they were in complete control.

Except, they weren’t.

A number of nations remarked that they weren’t initially asked for data until well after the plane went missing. However, we are now getting reports of radar imaging from Australia, France, and other nations that may or may not indicate aircraft debris.

Reluctantly, more than a week after the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian officials asked the FBI for some help in opening up whatever secrets may be hidden in a computer the pilot of MH370 used for a home-built flight simulator.

Look, it’s impossible for a layperson to figure out what happened to the aircraft. Did it have a catastrophic failure in flight? Was the plane knocked out of the sky by terrorists? Was this commercial aircraft outfitted surreptitiously with spyware, intercepted, and shot down? Was the pilot or co-pilot suicidal and decide to take 238 other souls with him? Is that plane sitting in some hostile environment being prepped for a terror attack?

Mystery continues to surround the disappearance of MH370.

What was in the cargo bay? What about this team of 20 defense workers who had just developed some secret warfare equipment? And, why were there no cell phone calls placed by passengers? And, if this truly was an act of terror, why has no group stepped forward to claim credit?

This incident, as tragic as it is, has evolved into a huge embarrassment.

The Malaysian government has bumbled it badly, to be sure. But there is also egg on the faces of other nations that for years have bragged about technological superiority and the ability to find anything anywhere.

This is an aircraft that has a wingspan of 200 feet, a length of 210 feet, that stands 60 feet tall. It is the world’s second-largest twin-jet aircraft, very close in size to the Boeing 747. It is a large airplane, with built-in redundancies and safety measures to ensure it reaches its destination safely.

But MH370 did not reach its destination safely. Despite state-of-the-art radar and tracking devices employed by friend and foe, managed to completely disappear, leaving us with only the specious explanation that it could have taken one of two divergent arcs of flight – one with a north-by-northwest bearing, the other a south-by-southwest bearing – with no clear direction established. And, nobody seems able to come up with a plausible explanation.

I can only think of the families of those 239 people onboard, the anguish they must be feeling at not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

Until Monday, according to news reports, many families held out hope, believing that the plane found land and that their loved ones are alive. I would like nothing better than to have seen them returned safely to their homes and families.

But, there is also the side of my brain that simply cannot understand, with the technology at hand, why more than two weeks after the aircraft disappeared, there are more questions than answers.

No bad days!


Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Bub March 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

    This is why I wear my trusty tin foil hat 24/7… can’t be too careful right?

    • Alvin March 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      So you’re the guy I saw in Wal-Mart last Sat. night.

  • Brian March 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Ed, you’re underestimating the scope of the problem. Yes, we have technology that can tell from space whether a teenage mosquito has acne, and yes, we have technology that can photograph the entire ocean. But we can’t do both at once, in real-time, 6 hours ago. Yes, the soldier could show you a readable license plate in real-time on a passing car in Baghdad, but he couldn’t show you the same area 6 hours before. By the time they knew where to look for MH370 there was nothing to see using satellites, and no archival high-res data to sift through. I work with satellite imagery at work all the time, and the data-sets are massive, and that is just for a single point in time. To scan every square mile of the ocean, in real-time, now and 6 hours ago, is still science fiction and will be for years to come, even for the evil NSA (and it is evil).

  • DB March 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    I agree that it’s become an embarrassment. Frankly, the Malaysians were in over their heads and who could blame them? What’s even more embarrassing has been the “reporting” on cable news, especially CNN.

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