Why are Americans obsessed with missing plane?

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Why are Americans obsessed with missing plane?
This photo illustration shows a journalist looking on the data communication logs from British satellite operator Inmarsat and released by Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) in Kuala Lumpur on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on May 27, 2014. Malaysia's aviation authority released on May 27 the satellite data used to determine that flight MH370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean following demands from sceptical relatives of those on board. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man stands in front of a billboard in support of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 as Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have a meeting at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 23, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris.. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
In this picture taken May 14, 2014 a Malaysia Airlines staff walks up to a flight prior to departure at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Malaysia Airlines is expected to announce its first quarter earnings after a bruising period since Flight 370 vanished. AFP PHOTO/ Manan VATSYAYANA. (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on May 5, 2014 the Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Artemis Bluefin-21, is shown on the deck of the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield berthed at Fleet Base West near Perth as it prepared to resupply and undertake routine maintenance. Ocean Shield, with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle on board, was due to head back on May 10 to the remote area of ocean off Western Australia to continue searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.

Photo of a map provided by GeoResonance, which claimed on Tuesday April 29, 2014, that it found wreckage thought to possibly be from missing Flight MH370. The photo was posted to Twitter by user Cristina Lombardi.

GeoResonance A graphic shows images depicting underwater "anomalies" suggesting deposits of various metals #MH370 http://t.co/qi2aUlzE1z

Photo of a map provided by GeoResonance, which claimed on Tuesday April 29, 2014, that it found wreckage thought to possibly be from missing Flight MH370. The photo was posted to Twitter by user Jickson Johnson.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17: A South Korean P3 Orion aircraft takes off from Pearce Airbase, in Bullsbrook, 35 kms north of Perth to help in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 17, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Twenty-six nations have been involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since it disappeared more than a month ago. The Malaysian Airways aircraft went missing on 8th March 2014 whilst on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. (Photo by Greg Pool - Pool/Getty Images)
AT SEA - APRIL 17: In this handout image provided by Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence, Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis begins its dive in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on April 17, 2014. Twenty-six nations have been involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since it disappeared more than a month ago. The Malaysian Airways aircraft went missing on 8th March 2014 whilst on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. (Photo by LSIS Bradley Darvill/Australia Department of Defence via Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 26: Malaysia's Minister of Defence and acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein (C) is viewed through a lens as he speaks during a press conference on March 26, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The search for flight MH370 resumes today after rought winds and high swells prevented crews from searching for debris yesterday. Six countries have joined the search, now considered to be a recovery effort, after authorities have announced that airliner crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean and that there are no survivors. (Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images)
Malaysia's Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein (L) looks at maps as Director General of Civil Aviation Department (DCA) Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (R) answers questions during a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 17, 2013. An investigation into the pilots of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 intensified on March 17 after officials confirmed that the last words spoken from the cockpit came after a key signalling system was manually disabled. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
US navy captain Mark Matthews (C) speaks with journalists following a media conference involving Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth on April 9, 2014 on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Angus Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Flight MH370's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10 : A handout image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, Australia, 10 April 2014, shows the search area and Sonobuoy search area where 14 planes and 13 ships are scouring a 57,923 square km area of ocean for the wreckage of flight MH370 on 10 April 2014.Flight MH370 went missing after losing radio contact with Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8. The Beijing-bound flight carried 239 passengers including 12 flight crew from 14 different countries. (Photo by AMSA/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Angus Houston (2nd-L), head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 speaks at a media conference in Perth on April 9, 2014. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
A graphic of the area being searched for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, is displayed during a media conference involving Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth on April 9, 2014. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, points to a graphic of the search area during a media conference in Perth on April 7, 2014. An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, Houston said on April 7, describing it as the 'most promising lead' so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, displays a graphic of the search area during a media conference in Perth on April 7, 2014. An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, Houston said on April 7, describing it as the 'most promising lead' so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
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PERTH, Australia (AP) -- From the disappearances of aviator Amelia Earhart to labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, there's just something about a good mystery that Americans find too tantalizing to resist. Perhaps that's why the saga of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has continued to rivet the country long after people elsewhere have moved on.

From the beginning, the story has bubbled with enough drama to rival a good Hollywood whodunit. And even though it unfolded on the other side of the world with only three Americans on board, many were sucked in anyway.

"This story has many ingredients of compelling drama, particularly early on: lives at stake, mystery unsolved, a race against time, human emotion," Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said in an email.

But why did interest remain so high in the U.S. when the story lost steam elsewhere? It dropped from most Australian front pages and websites weeks ago, despite the search being coordinated off its western coast. CNN International, CNN's overseas network, tapered its coverage when other big news broke, such as the crisis in Ukraine and the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. But CNN in the U.S. continued its heavy focus on the plane.

Even in China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, reports never ran nonstop on TV and the clamor on social media also died down.

But Americans yearned for more.

Many found it impossible to believe that a modern Boeing 777 carrying 239 people could just vanish without a trace in an age where an iPhone can be tracked just about anywhere.

Part of the obsession may also revolve around the country's gotta-know-now mentality and its social media addiction that gets fed 24/7 by the latest breaking news, raw footage or photos going viral on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Since the plane disappeared, it has consistently been one of the top five most-read stories on The Associated Press' mobile app.

And so Americans tuned in to watch the latest developments. And when there were no new developments, they stayed glued to their smartphones because the suspense of not knowing - or possibly missing something new - somehow spiked when nothing was going on. From oil slicks to pings from dying black boxes, each new lead provided a salacious morsel that drove viewers to wonder: Will this be it?

"I find myself drawn into watching or reading about it because it has taken on seemingly mythic worldwide importance," Paul Mones, an attorney from Portland, Oregon, wrote in an email. "In this modern world we simply refuse to accept that something so concrete can get so out of our physical reach and understanding. ... People just refuse to concede that the cause of the disaster will likely forever remain unknown."

After six weeks of breathless reporting, not one shred of hard evidence has been found from the jetliner. An unmanned underwater submarine is now using sonar to comb the ocean floor at a depth exceeding 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) off the west coast of Australia. It is desperately trying to spot something - anything - that resembles wreckage in an area where signals believed to be coming from the plane's dying black boxes were heard.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center conducted April 3-6, the missing plane remained the top news story in the U.S., with 33 percent of people saying they followed it over a deadly shooting at Fort Hood Army base, developments related to Ukraine and President Obama's health care overhaul. That's down from 39 percent in the previous March questionnaire, when nearly half of those asked said they thought the hunt for Flight 370 was being given the right amount of coverage.

CNN covered the drama heavily for weeks, once breaking into one of its programs to report that objects recovered from the sea could be trash - which is exactly what they proved to be. They featured tons of go-to footage from a flight simulator and a nonstop spool of speculation from talking heads. Everyone had a theory, with some sounding more like a Twilight Zone rerun than a newscast: Could a black hole or even something supernatural be behind the aircraft's March 8 disappearance?

CNN declined to comment for this story despite repeated requests from the AP.

Last week, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., begged CNN to scale it back.

"Enough, already," he wrote. "Give us a break from the missing plane. ... Put your hands up and step away from the story."

Even though its coverage was mocked by "The Daily Show" and spoofed by "Saturday Night Live," Americans kept watching, and the 24-hour news network's ratings kept soaring.

CNN reported itself that its all-important 25- to 54-year-old viewer demographic more than doubled after its plane reporting began.

A month and a half into the massive search that has involved scores of countries scouring thousands upon thousands of ocean miles, the plane was still among the top three stories Sunday on Google news. The only new development was that the robotic submarine was expected to finish its sweep of the seabed in a week.

A combination of popular TV shows and a history peppered with real-life detective dramas, from who shot President John F. Kennedy to the identity of Watergate source "Deep Throat," may have been factors that tempted Americans to latch onto it.

"It's almost like all the seasons of `Lost' was the promotional period for this story," said Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert at Syracuse University.

"We have always kind of put a lot of our popular national narrative into these mysteries and conspiracies and all of the rest of it," he added. "And this is a pretty powerful one."
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