What if the missing Malaysia plane is never found?

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
What if the missing Malaysia plane is never found?
(Image courtesy of: Miami Herald)
This patch, found on a remote Pacific Island by researchers with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, is believed to have come from Earhart's plane Electra. (TIGHAR)
The patch is shown on the plane under this yellow arrow. (TIGHAR)
The shredded patch being held up against a reproduction of where on the plane it would have fit. (TIGHAR)
The patch covered the special window denoted at the back of the plane. (TIGHAR)
Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, is seen in this undated photo. (AP Photo)
FILE - An undated file photo shows American aviatrix Amelia Earhart. A $2.2 million expedition is hoping to finally solve one of America's most enduring mysteries. What happened to famed aviator Amelia Earhart when she went missing over the South Pacific 75 years ago? (AP Photo, File)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega surrounded by crowd after she became the first woman to fly solo from Hawaii to California in 1935. Courtesy Air and Space Museum. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this undated photo, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane sits on top of a plane. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is wading into one of the 20th century?s most enduring mysteries: the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, disappeared over the South Pacific 75 years ago. Clinton is meeting March 20, 2012, with historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which will launch a new search in June for the wreckage of Earhart?s plane off the remote island of Nikumaroro. (AP Photo)
FILE-- An undated file photo shows Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is meeting Tuesday March 20, 2012, with historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which will launch a new search in June for the wreckage of Earhart's plane off the remote island of Nikumaroro. (AP Photo)
FILE-- In a 1937 file photo aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, pose in front of their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles prior to their historic flight in which Earhart was attempting to become first female pilot to circle the globe. A $2.2 million expedition is hoping to finally solve one of America's most enduring mysteries. What happened to famed aviator Amelia Earhart when she went missing over the South Pacific 75 years ago? (AP Photo, File)
Amelia Earhart, noted flier, awaiting a call to the stand as an expert witness in an airplane accident case in which Paul Mantz, her technical adviser (shown with her), is involved in Los Angeles on May 16, 1937. (AP Photo)
Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan pose with map of the Pacific showing the route of their last flight, in Los Angeles, May 1937. (AP Photo)
Vietnamese Air Force Col. Pham Minh Tuan uses binoculars on board a flying aircraft during a mission to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the Gulf of Thailand, Thursday, March 13, 2014. 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. (AP Photo)
A cabin crew of the Vietnam Air Force is seen onboard a flying AN-26 Soviet made aircraft during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the southern sea between Vietnam and Malaysia Friday, March 14, 2014. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
Officer Lang Van Ngan of the Vietnam Air Force looks out the window onboard a flying AN-26 Soviet made aircraft during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the southern sea between Vietnam and Malaysia Friday, March 14, 2014. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
Officer Lang Van Ngan of the Vietnam Air Force looks out the window onboard a flying AN-26 Soviet made aircraft during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the southern sea between Vietnam and Malaysia Friday, March 14, 2014. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen).
Vietnamese Air Force Col. Pham Minh Tuan uses binoculars on board a flying aircraft during a mission to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the Gulf of Thailand over the location where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner, Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo)
A Vietnamese air force pilot touches the controls of a transport plane on Sunday March 9, 2014 during the search and rescue operations for the Malaysian airliner vanished early Saturday on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Military radar indicates that the missing Boeing 777 jet may have turned back, Malaysia's air force chief said Sunday as scores of ships and aircraft from across Asia resumed a hunt for the plane and its 239 passengers. (AP Photo)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The plane must be somewhere. But the same can be said for Amelia Earhart's.

Ten days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people aboard, an exhaustive international search has produced no sign of the Boeing 777, raising an unsettling question: What if the airplane is never found?

Such an outcome, while considered unlikely by many experts, would certainly torment the families of those missing. It would also flummox the airline industry, which will struggle to learn lessons from the incident if it doesn't know what happened.

While rare nowadays, history is not short of such mysteries - from the most famous of all, American aviator Earhart, to planes and ships disappearing in the so-called Bermuda Triangle.

"When something like this happens that confounds us, we're offended by it, and we're scared by it," said Ric Gillespie, a former U.S. aviation accident investigator who wrote a book about Earhart's still-unsolved 1937 disappearance over the Pacific Ocean. "We had the illusion of control and it's just been shown to us that oh, folks, you know what? A really big airliner can just vanish. And nobody wants to hear that."

Part of the problem, said Andrew Thomas, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transportation Security, is that airline systems are not as sophisticated as many people might think. A case in point, he said, is that airports and airplanes around the world use antiquated radar tracking technology, first developed in the 1950s, rather than modern GPS systems.

A GPS system might not have solved the mystery of Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. But it would probably have given searchers a better read on the plane's last known location, Thomas said.

"There are lots of reasons why they haven't changed, but the major one is cost," he said. "The next-generation technology would cost $70 to $80 billion in the U.S."


Experts say the plane's disappearance will likely put pressure on airlines and governments to improve the way they monitor planes, including handoff procedures between countries. Flight 370 vanished after it signed off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers, and never made contact with their Vietnamese counterparts as it should have.

And if the plane is never found, liability issues will be a huge headache for courts. With no wreckage, it would be difficult to determine whether the airline, manufacturers or other parties should bear the brunt of responsibility.

"The international aviation legal system does not anticipate the complete disappearance of an aircraft," said Brian Havel, a law professor and director of the International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago. "We just don't have the tools for that at present."

The families of the missing, of course, would face the most painful consequences of a failed search.

"In any kind of death, the most important matter for relatives and loved ones is knowing the context and circumstances," said Kevin Tso, the chief executive of New Zealand agency Victim Support, which has been counseling family and friends of the two New Zealand passengers aboard the flight. "When there's very little information, it's very difficult."

Tso said the abundance of speculation about the plane's fate in the media and elsewhere is not helpful to the families, who may be getting false hope that their loved ones are still alive.

It has been nearly 50 years since a plane carrying more than two dozen people vanished without a trace, according to a list of unexplained aviation disappearances tracked by the Flight Safety Foundation. An Argentine military plane carrying 69 people disappeared in 1965 and has never been found.

Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Fred Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity.

There is also an ongoing fascination with the Bermuda Triangle, where several ships and planes disappeared, including a squadron of five torpedo bombers in 1945. Studies have indicated the area is no more dangerous than any other stretch of ocean.

More than two dozen countries are involved in the effort to find Flight 370 and end the uncertainty, with dozens of aircraft and boats searching along a vast arc where investigators believe the plane ended up, judging by signals received by a satellite.

Gillespie and other experts said they expect the plane will eventually be found, even if investigators have to wait until some wreckage washes ashore.

"We all expect we're going to find this plane and the chances are probably pretty good that we'll find something. But you know, I think everyone thought that about Amelia Earhart as well," said Phaedra Hise, a pilot and author of "Pilot Error: The Anatomy of a Plane Crash." "We know there's a chance that we may never find out what happened. Which is a little scary, isn't it?"
Read Full Story

People are Reading

The Latest from our Partners
1 - 3 of 15