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Missing jetliner creates legion of armchair sleuths


NEW YORK (AP) - There aren't supposed to be any mysteries in the Digital Age.

The answers to most questions, it seems, can be found using Google or Twitter. So, maybe that's why the world is captivated by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and why it has created a legion of armchair sleuths, spouting theories in some cases so strange they belong in science-fiction films.

Casual conversations in supermarket aisles, barbershop chairs and office building cafeterias have centered on the mystery and how much we don't know. With the search for the missing Boeing 777 entering its seventh day, the passengers' families are left without closure while the intrigue - and hypotheses - continue to grow for the rest of us.

"We're fascinated by it. We don't know what happened and we hope for a miracle," says John DiScala, who runs the travel advice site JohnnyJet.com. "People want an answer and the suspense is killing them."

Normally, travelers turn to DiScala for the latest deals on flights. But this week, he says, a page on his website dedicated to the latest news about the flight has received most of the attention.

The pros are just as perplexed. On TV and in online forums, aviation experts are more measured and analytical than the amateurs but in the end can't say with any certainty what happened.

With no distress call, no sign of wreckage and very few answers, the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane is turning into one of the biggest aviation mysteries since Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

"Anybody who travels is intrigued with this story. How can a plane disappear? We've got satellites beaming down on everybody ..." says Andrea Richard, a French-American in Paris who travels widely, including to Asia.

Theories abound. Some are serious: there was a catastrophic failure in the airframe or engines or there might have been a pilot error. Other ideas are the kinds to be found in science fiction movies: a new Bermuda Triangle, an alien abduction or something out of the Twilight Zone.

Terrorism isn't suspected but hasn't been ruled out either. But some people have come up with elaborate plots worthy of a James Bond villain where the plane is hijacked and lands on a remote island, undetected by radar.

Others have sat in their homes or offices scouring new commercial satellite images of the ocean, looking for any debris from the plane.

False leads and conflicting information have only added to the mystery, the speculation and the frustration. It's still unclear how far the plane may have flown after losing contact with civilian radar - and in which direction. On Thursday, planes were sent to search an area off the southern tip of Vietnam where Chinese satellite images released by the Chinese government reportedly showed floating objects believed to be part of the plane. Nothing turned up.

Even if the plane is found soon, the speculation likely won't fade. It can take months, if not years, after a plane crash to learn definitively what happened.

That's an anomaly in an age of instant answers. If something isn't known, we just Google it. If we are lost, we use the GPS on our smartphones to find our location. And if our flight is delayed, even five minutes, the airline sends us a text message.

In this situation - to everybody's frustration - we still don't have a conclusion.

Popular TV shows like "Lost," or movies like "Alive" or "Castaway," where people survive a plane crash only to have the rest of the world give up on them, just feed the curiosity. (Note: It was a Boeing 777 that disappeared over the Pacific in "Lost.")

"This feeds into everyone's fear of flying. It's one thing for people to have a fear of dying in a plane crash. It's another one to die in a plane crash and never be found," says Phil Derner, founder of the aviation enthusiast website NYC Aviation.

Those within the aviation industry are enthralled with the mystery too, but from a much more methodical, scientific viewpoint.

"There's a lot of head scratching going on," says Daniel O. Rose, a partner with the aviation accident law firm Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, which is representing the survivors and victims' families of July's Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. "It becomes like a murder mystery almost, these clues that you're getting and trying to piece it together in a way that makes technical and logical sense."

Airlines and their employees don't like to talk about crashes. It's not in their nature. Instead, they defer to the crash investigators. Part of it is that they have nothing to gain by speaking and part of it is superstition.

Jason Rabinowitz, a self-proclaimed aviation geek whose hobby includes snapping photographs of airplanes taking off and landing, said those within the industry are bringing up previous incidents and previous searches "rather than clinging to straws."

Normally, aviation experts have their theories and stick to their guns. This time, he said, people are throwing out theories left and right only to have other experts shoot them down.

"The aviation community is more puzzled than the general population because we know more of what would cause an accident and we still have no clue," Rabinowitz says. "I keep going to sleep every night and hoping that I wake up with some shred of good news but it isn't happening."


With reports from Elaine Ganley in Paris.

Join the discussion

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whoperman March 13 2014 at 10:35 PM

Wasn't there a show called LOST

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Henri Suy March 13 2014 at 5:51 PM

I am not an expert in lost airplanes. But knowing that it flew in the vicinity of Sumatra, Indonesia, has the jungle of that Island been given due attention for a possible crash landing? Of course, some of the people there may be perhaps somewhat less informed, but they are certainly intelligent and know an airplane when they see one. Besides that, there are vast areas of dense jungle, or has that already been ruled out? I guess a satellite would have picked up the image, one would expect. This disappearance is astounding in this day and age.

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john March 13 2014 at 11:08 PM

You are right, with all the satelites we have in the sky, you would think one of them could pick something up about it. I heard John Travolta bought it and it's sitting in his front yard along with his other Jets.
The rumors about it being hijacked, sitting in a hangar are just absurd. Although you never know, I mean they have no clue what so ever, so, I guess it's possible.
I want to know: why did they not know before hand those people were on board with stolen passports? Seems awful suspicious to me. Who says 19 year olds can't be terrorists; like he would tell his Mom....

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falexan923 March 13 2014 at 5:46 PM

This plane crash is something else. Makes one realize how big this earth is

Flag Reply +1 rate up
margie_harrington March 13 2014 at 5:46 PM

Man doesn't know the answer to everything. If you believe in God then you know that there are going to be things that will happen before his return that can't be explained. Need I say more.

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2 replies
Mark margie_harrington March 13 2014 at 5:58 PM

Gimme a break!

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peterchase1 margie_harrington March 13 2014 at 6:59 PM

Vacuous and preachy at the same time, you may be the same bible thumper waiting for God "to return", then to end your slant with the tiresome line "....Need I say more?"
Yes, you should. Say something more.

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thylorddracula March 13 2014 at 5:43 PM

someone has found away to block radar and steal this plane - the terrorist are now telling us look out - we can come from anywhere undetected !

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Lettybits March 13 2014 at 5:41 PM

I'm supposed to fly to Africa this coming December, 2014. Eeek!

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1 reply
Gracie GirL Lettybits March 13 2014 at 5:49 PM

If I were you I would seriously try to find a device that works like a transponder and keep it on your person and hope that security doesn't take it. I think it's high time we as passengers take some steps for our own protection because Governments seem to be lacking on technology for planes and boats. Get Crackin and by December 2014 you may have a nice little device to take on your trip.

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wodkasj March 13 2014 at 5:38 PM


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kdlebeouf March 13 2014 at 5:34 PM

I rarely post on boards like this one but in the last week this unsolved mystery has me enthroned. The lack of creditable information is killing me. Not knowing the whereabouts on a massive airplane seems unconscionable in today's world. Most people think there's no place on earth you can go to escape man-made technology , I guess we've all been humbled by this experience.

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booboo720 March 13 2014 at 5:31 PM

Let's activate a bunch of drones and add them to the searching!!!

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