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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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vtmilitia March 13 2014 at 4:27 PM

With the fact the engine computers were being recorded I'm going with a hijack and conversion into a massive flying bomb to be used somewhere.

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fluffyaba vtmilitia March 13 2014 at 4:34 PM

with all thetheories going on. They must think we are morons. Come on how many years ago we sent ARMSTRONG to the moon And in 1969 GLENN walked on the moon> And we are suppose to believe they can't find this airplane.. This plane will be seen again, when it crashes into the white house Or a oil refinery, delivering a message!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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ae12wrangell fluffyaba March 13 2014 at 4:52 PM

Col. John H. Glenn, USMC(ret.) never walked on the moon. John Glenn's only flight was that of being the First American to orbit the Earth. After that, he all but retired. He did stay with NASA while the remaining Mercury, Gemini Astronauts went up, though. The ONLY Mercury Astronaut to walk on the Moon was Alan Shephard. And he had a blast. So much so, that he hit 2 golf balls.

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greenliks March 13 2014 at 4:36 PM

The name of the person or entity who purchased the tickets for those using stolen passports was named Mr. Ali-En. just saying....

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stevenpnt March 13 2014 at 4:46 PM

Appears to me that they were hijacked and will appear either in Iran, Somalia, or some other rogue nation, where they will be ransomed off.

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elmmaestro March 13 2014 at 4:44 PM

Did any of the pilots have such photos posted in social media that would indicate their willingness to abandon security protocol and allow pretty young women into the cockpit midflight? This seems like the type of weakness that could be exploited by those wishing to hijack or destroy the plane.

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Tom March 13 2014 at 4:32 PM

I don't know about the headline. The loss of Flight 19--5 Navy Avengers lost without a trace as well as the Flying Boat that was sent to look for them is right up there with aviation mysteries. All were fully fueled, freshly maintained, and all the crew members were lost, as well as the 13 on the aircraft sent to look for them. http://www.aol.com/article/2014/03/12/man-with-the-golden-voice-still-going-strong-alcohol-free/20848686/?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmain5%7Cdl4%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D453290

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Ross Tom March 13 2014 at 4:33 PM

Same thing I was thinking!

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Applez64 March 13 2014 at 4:42 PM

What can you say about this? They say the last message was everything OK, then they say it drops off radar, then they say it made a turn, then they say they think wreckage is spotted, then it isn't, then two of the passengers used stolen passports bought at the same time. How can something like this happen in this age of high tech! No way a 777 aircraft could fly below radar and land without somebody seeing it! No way it could crash without leaving some sign somewhere. No cellphone communication. No terrorist group shouting "We did it- death to all you who do not believe as we do"! Sounds like a movie! There's got to be a reasonable explanation. Right? So what the hell is it!

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greenstamp March 13 2014 at 4:38 PM

Perhaps there was a major electrical malfunction. Then when the plane deviated from its' assigned route it was shot down by a govt. who does not wish to admit it.

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pluv8 March 13 2014 at 4:29 PM

With a history of missing planes, although smaller ones, has been around for a long time. Look at the 5 Navy planes that went missing long ago off the coast of Florida, then the plane that went to search for them disappeared too. I think all possibilities have to be examined no matter how out there they are.

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Gracie GirL March 13 2014 at 4:51 PM

I think because of September 11 and other incidents including Hi~Jacking for Ransom and all the terrorist activity including Somali Pirates at sea in a world where technology lays claim to spying on phone calls, text messages, etc and spying on other Countries and the USA using drones it feeds a persons mind with multiple theories.
The fact is I think even those who are professionals at searching for this plane may be over thinking the entire Plane gone missing. I think it simply crashed in more shallow water in a remote area and is in a more obvious place where the imagination and technologists are not even considering. The mind is a wonderful ~ powerful Tool but when over fed information it's circuits over fire which creates the movies and books on mysteries. Lets fac eit~evidently technology isn't as far advanced as we think when it comes to locating lost boats at sea or planes. We are no further ahead since Amelia EarHarts Plane disapeared and it's shocking given how far technology has grow but in different areas of life. We are better at spying on people and corporations~

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icu812ruok March 13 2014 at 4:50 PM

2014 - All of today's technology - you would not think this would be the scenario they are dealing with this far after the fact.

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