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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Morning News: How Does an Airplane Just Vanish?

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 8:57 AM

A MALAYSIA AIRLINES BOEING 777 Vanished in mid-air between Malaysia and Vietnam over the weekend.

A Little More than 48 Hours Ago, a Boeing 777 Vanished: The plane had 239 people on board, including two American toddlers. It was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared. There's been a bunch of speculation over the last two days that an oil slick in the ocean (see it here) might be linked to the disappeared airplane, but this morning comes word that the oil samples have been tested in a lab and the results "showed they were not from the Malaysia Airlines jet but were a type of fuel used by ships." Likewise, there were reports of "a yellow object that looked like a life raft," but turned out to be "moss-covered trash floating in the ocean." There was "another report claiming that the tail of the plane was found, but they were only logs tied together." Two of the male passengers on the plane were traveling with stolen passports: "There has been no indication that the two men had anything to do with the tragedy, but the use of stolen passports fueled speculation of foul play, terrorism or a hijacking gone wrong." Another clue: The airplane may have turned around just before disappearing from radar screens. So what happened? "Experts say possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide."

Keep Following This Story: The Guardian is a great resource—all their coverage is in one place, aggregated and time-stamped. Also recommended: News Straits Times's ongoing coverage.

In Unrelated Horrors, People Are Also Disappearing in Ukraine: Beneath the "hope lies the grim concern that many Ukrainians may have disappeared after being seized by the Berkut riot police unit, by pro-Russian provocateurs or by unofficial forces that worked to keep Mr. Yanukovych in power."

A Woman Was Stabbed and Sexually Assaulted in North Bend Last Night: When police arrived, they "found a woman had been stabbed once in the chest, duct-taped at her feet and wrists and sexually assaulted." Jesus.

750 Jailed Immigrants at a Tacoma Detention Center Went on Hunger Strike This Weekend: "They were pretty adamant that their demands are improved working conditions and that this is a statement against the deportations every week," their lawyer says, asserting, "Those who are more actively involved are getting their blankets, pillows, and clothes taken away."

Racist Taunting from Local High School Students: As Danielle Henderson wrote about on Friday, Issaquah High School students taunted Garfield High School students with racist messages on social media, according to a police report. Two days later, Danielle shared some of her own experiences with racial taunting in Seattle, and added five ideas off the top of her head about how to make Seattle better for people of color.

South African Murder Trial Continues: "Oscar Pistorius vomited in the dock and retched repeatedly and loudly at his murder trial Monday as he heard graphic details of the injuries sustained by the girlfriend he shot."

Reaching Through to an Autistic Son By Communicating with Him as Various Disney Characters: This essay from yesterday's New York Times Magazine is fascinating.

Drug Kingpin Thought to Be Dead Two Years Ago Was Actually Not Killed Until Yesterday: Oops. His nickname was the Craziest One, he had an "affinity for Christian-style verse," and "he often justified grisly violence, including beheadings, as acts of affirmation to his cultish code."

The "True Detective" Finale: Crashed HBO's streaming service.

Zelda Fitzgerald Died 66 Years Ago Today: She outlived her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, by eight years. She died when the mental institution she was living in caught fire in the middle of the night. She was one of nine victims, "identified only by her slipper."

Wow, What a Horribly Depressing Morning News: Sorry. It's just a horrible-news day. But here's a commercial that might to cheer you up.


Comments (18) RSS

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Urgutha Forka 1
RE: How does an airplane just vanish?

So you're saying it's Lost?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on March 10, 2014 at 9:16 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 2
That commercial made me very aware of my bottom. Great, now I'm depressed and self-conscious. Thanks a lot, Frizzelle.
Posted by MacCrocodile on March 10, 2014 at 9:25 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
How does an airplane just vanish? Well, there's no radar over the ocean...
Posted by Matt from Denver on March 10, 2014 at 9:28 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 4
I'm thinking the damn plane sank. They're made of metal, you know. This is the same thinking that fuels the "mystery" of the Bermuda Triangle. Why, oh why, don't we see pieces of airplanes floating on the open sea? Pretty much comes down to either metal sinks, or Elvis.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on March 10, 2014 at 9:31 AM · Report this
@1 I'm more of an X-files man, but that works to . . .
Posted by Ken Mehlman on March 10, 2014 at 9:35 AM · Report this
lark 6
Over this weekend, like not a few others I have been absolutely baffled by the dissappearance of a large jetliner such as this one. It seems astonishing that a plane of that size could just vanish into thin air without as yet a trace. So far as I know, no distress signal was sent. And adding to the mystery, at least 2 passengers carried stolen/false passports with tickets purchased from the same travel agency in Thailand. It's astonishing that those passports weren't confirmed prior to boarding.

To be sure, planes and ships have been lost at sea. It's a large planet and more than 67% (?) is covered in water. However, it wasn't surprising given (lack thereof) the technology of the times (50+ years ago or more?). I would have thought that by now, 2014 all transoceanic planes and ships would carry indestructable location "beacons" (in addition to a "black box" on planes) like I do when I climb a mountain should I or any other climber encounter an avalanche or some unfortunate event on a large peak. This tragedy far more than anything confounds me.

Air travel still remains very safe (I go to Vietnam in a few weeks) and carriers/airports do a fine job of security clearance. Sometimes they are too vigilant. But at least I feel secure. The thing that does astonish me are these two fellows with false passports. That is an extreme security lapse. The specter of foul play is to be considered.

My condolences to the families of the passengers on that flight and I wish good luck to all the nations participating in the recover efforts of that plane. It must be found.
Posted by lark on March 10, 2014 at 9:53 AM · Report this
Gordon Werner 7
@6 airplanes do have beacons ... they activate upon impact and/or contact with water.

As for why no wreckage has been found ... it all depends on what happened ... and how (if it did) the aircraft impacted the water.
Posted by Gordon Werner on March 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM · Report this
dnt trust me 8
Horribly depressing news day? Someone said an article on Autism was fascinating.
Posted by dnt trust me on March 10, 2014 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Hate to be a buzzkill, but surprised not to see at least passing mention of the 6.9 quake off the coast by Eureka last night, at the far end of that subduction zone y'all got out there.
Posted by lol chikinburd on March 10, 2014 at 10:58 AM · Report this
raindrop 11
@6: It's a security lapse, but apparently there are hundreds of folks flying around the world with falsified or stolen passports on a daily basis -- so say security experts.
Posted by raindrop on March 10, 2014 at 11:00 AM · Report this

Maybe he landed it on the water and it sank in one piece.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Report this
I'm curious whether it would be possible for a jetliner to turn off all radio signals, "go dark" as it were, and fly to another location and land safely undetected? I'm not putting that forth as a theory, I'm just wondering if it's even possible within modern air traffic systems.
Posted by JenV on March 10, 2014 at 12:16 PM · Report this
JonnoN 14
@13 I suppose a pilot could turn off all transponders, but there'd still be an unidentified aircraft on radar, which would probably be intercepted if it headed for land.
Posted by JonnoN on March 10, 2014 at 12:30 PM · Report this
@6: There are transponders, but you have to be within a certain distance (about 15 miles, I think I read) to get the signal. Given the large area where it's possible the plane went down that's not an insignificant distance.
Posted by bigyaz on March 10, 2014 at 12:36 PM · Report this


Yes, in ocean crashes, locating the voice cockpit recorder and data recorder signals is sometimes non-trivial even during the 30 period when it is working.

They have had to use trawlers to crisscross an area and then use remote submersibles to scour the ocean for the tail section.

I read though that this sea is only 250 ft deep at maximum.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 10, 2014 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Apocynum 18
@12 I can tell you that an airliner – especially a heavily-laden one – is extremely unlikely land on water without breaking up.

It's easy to get the wrong idea about the way airplanes are constructed because of our experience with cars. A car is designed to operate on roads, but in a pinch, most can drive off into a field to park at a music festival or something. An airliner like the 777 simply doesn't have that sort of 'forgiveness' built into its structure that would allow it to take the bumps and crunches of a landing anywhere except a runway, because that sort of heavier construction has a cost in weight that would quickly make flying anything as large as a 777 extremely un-economical.

It might survive the crash in a single section, but there would almost certainly be pieces of flight control surfaces, belly skin, landing compartment, etc. somewhere out there.

My impression is that they haven't found it yet, or that they know what happened to it, and whatever happened has unpleasant-enough political consequences that they're giving the involved/affected actors a week or two to prep before dropping the news.
Posted by Apocynum on March 10, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Maybe it was the anti-goldilocks event. If it landed too hard, smashed into the water, there should be pieces of junk floating all over the place. If it landed too soft, really smoothly, ala Chesley B. Sullenberger III, then the people would get out and be right now floating around in rafts. But if landed just right, maybe it cracked open but not too wide and sunk very quickly, taking all the junk including e.g. the emergency radio beacon under with it. The radio signal won't come up through the water. There should still be a sonar beacon for the black box, if I recall correctly, but to hear that, you need a microphone in the water, and you have to be close, like less than a mile.

Can a commercial air pilot turn off the transponder in flight? I don't know. I can't think why it would be wired up so a pilot could turn it off, the way a military pilot can. If it did that then in principle it could fly low over the waves and be very hard to see. Seems a little unlikely, sure.
Posted by Eric from Boulder on March 10, 2014 at 4:52 PM · Report this
I blame Chris Angel - he's very irresponsible.
Posted by John Powell on March 12, 2014 at 4:41 PM · Report this

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