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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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Julia March 14 2014 at 3:33 PM

This isn't exactly unprecedented, folks. They never found Flight 19, either...and there were FIVE planes on that ill-fated flight. There were six if you count the Martin Mariner that was initially sent to search for them...and it also vanished without a trace.

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1 reply
Aurelia Dyson Julia March 14 2014 at 6:43 PM

See Aurelia's agreement.

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charlie March 14 2014 at 10:47 AM

Tis aircraft being searched for boggles the mind. I enjoy flying to wherever I go on vacations. I have never been fearful. many people I know feel the same way. While in the Air Force I was on the fire and crash rescue force. I saw and responded to many emergencie incidents fortuneatly none were catastrophic. Because of my experiences I can only saythat this Incident tweeks my curiosity but I I pray we find an answer soon for relatives of those passengers .I leave speculation to those experts in the field.

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holkulani117 March 14 2014 at 4:21 AM

Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal, Love leaves a memory that No one can steal. Deepest Sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the Passengers , Flight attendents and Cockpit crew .

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Anne March 14 2014 at 3:36 AM

This is like an episode of "Lost." Maybe the plane crashed on to an invisible tropical island full of polar bears and deadly fog monsters. OK, maybe not. But there were almost 300 people on that plane and every single one of them had a cell phone. How is it possible that not even one passenger had a chance to make a phone call before whatever happened to the plane happened? Everyone must have been instantly disabled or killed, like a sudden explosion. But then there would be wreckage and bodies. So where the hell is that plane?

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bituj March 14 2014 at 2:59 AM



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cam553 March 14 2014 at 2:01 AM

I wondered from the first if China shot it down after it entered their newly-claimed airspace, and now that they saw it was off-course, this seems even more possible.

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abcstarfox March 14 2014 at 2:15 AM

I really thought by now we would have the answer.
Instead, the mystery is growing and the families are
going bonkers. I feel so bad for all of them.

...and no matter how many reports I read.....here I sit,
still believing it was hyjacked I just can't shake it.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
hpycmpr155 March 14 2014 at 9:02 AM

Anyone remember the pro golfer whose jet flew for hours with everyone on board dead inside????

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4 replies
E&L Photographer March 13 2014 at 10:50 PM

Ed Spellacy and family E&L Photographers God Bless all

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1 reply
LolaMarie E&L Photographer March 13 2014 at 11:25 PM

I hope so too. But it will have nothing to do with God if it does.

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dsh1007155 March 13 2014 at 10:37 PM

Which super power (or "ally" of) shot down this plane?

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1 reply
foxyconserv dsh1007155 March 13 2014 at 10:42 PM

Possible that China shot them down -by mistake- and they are trying to cover it up, by claiming it's still just missing.

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1 reply
classof68gto foxyconserv March 14 2014 at 12:26 AM

Being shot down would not explain why the transponders were turned off.

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