As the search for Malaysia Flight 370 continues, family members of the passengers are demanding proof of the missing plane’s location, while the mystery continues to grow. If this was a terrorist plot, it is still unknown. Why has no one taken responsibility so far? If individuals on board were involved, was it one or more of the passengers? The stolen passports of two passengers on board only add a Hollywood twist to this plot. Based on the information made public so far, the plane was handled expertly, which suggests crew involvement. That raises further questions. Was it one or more of the crew members, or was it only the pilots? Could only one of the pilots have pulled off the whole thing? Given the complexity of these questions, and the mystique of the event thus far, it is doubtful that a clear explanation can be provided. This has cause for great concern.
Current theories range from mechanical failure to a botched terrorist plot. Any evidence will have to prove conclusively, beyond a shadow of doubt, exactly what happened to Flight 370. To complicate the situation further, if the investigation determines mechanical failure was not the cause of the crash, it will be next to impossible for the investigators to discover the cause if the black box is not found. Barring any unexpected developments, the proof required to solve this mystery depends entirely upon the evidence obtained from the black box analysis.
The deep mistrust among relatives and friends of those missing and presumed dead can be seen in their public demonstrations demanding proof. It is likely that the investigators will leave all theories on the table while facts are gathered. This could take a while. It took two years before the Air France Flight 447 black box was recovered from the ocean floor.
The investigation into the cause of the crash cannot begin until the investigators have found substantial remains of the airplane, and any passengers or crew. Among the debris, the most critical component will be the black box. It carries the cockpit voice recording that can provide the most reliable lead, and could allow the investigators to rule out or confirm mechanical failure. If mechanical failure is found to be the cause of the crash, everyone can take a collective sigh of relief, relatively speaking of course. If the cause of the crash is determined to be of a sinister nature, proving and finding answers becomes even more critical for the investigators.
If terrorism is suspected as the most likely explanation for the crash, a desperate situation is likely to unfold, which will be finding those responsible for this act. It is hard to imagine any nation state claiming responsibility for so many innocent lives lost. With no one taking credit for the disappearance of Flight 370, and no proof of a crash other than sophisticated data analysis that cannot answer the questions as to what happened and why it happened, the task facing the investigators is monumental. These unknowns are further complicated considering no phone calls were made by the passengers or the crew, no distress transmission sent from the cockpit, and precise changes in heading and altitude were made by someone on board the plane. This suggests that there was little or no struggle for the control of the plane. Furthermore, Malaysian authorities have confirmed that the communications systems were disabled, and the missing plane’s transponder was turned off. This brings the focus of the investigation to the two pilots. Without hard evidence of plane debris, developing a theory and explaining why will be insufficient and unsatisfactory to many.
The erased flight simulator program on Captain Zahari Ahmad Shah’s home flight simulator might provide a valuable clue, if the investigators can retrieve the erased data. But even if they are able to retrieve the missing software, at best it will prove that the flight path was practiced beforehand, and thus, create a plausible case for a premeditated intent. However, it will still not answer the question as to why.
Going on the premise that at least one of the pilots was involved, the reason for this action will be impossible to know, unless clear evidence is produced. Was there a link to a larger organization? Who was the mastermind? Are there other such plots in the works? Were they recently recruited for this job, or was this action planned long ago? These, and many other questions will leave the families of the lost grieving without closure, and everyone else mystified. If investigators cannot provide conclusive proof, we must include another realistic and far more frightening possibility that perhaps we are witnessing the emergence of terrorism of a different form in which random individuals take matters in their own hands to cause maximum damage, either for fame, or because they can. Such a scenario, if it perpetuates, will provide the traditional terrorists a perfect ally in the confusion and public mistrust of officials, and create an impossible task for the authorities in charge of public safety. This form of terrorism can reach many places at random, as well as affect global economies simply from the fear of its existence. The irony is that this is happening in a time when government is facing scrutiny over its surveillance programs that it says is there to protect us from terrorists.
In the coming months, the authorities must show a clear strategy, and realize they have a lot more at stake than simply solving an aviation mystery. This mystery, if left unsolved, has the potential to allow public imagination to go viral. It can be used as an example to show future solo terrorists the endless possibilities to wreak havoc in society. Malaysian authorities, along with the international team of investigators, must provide the families of Flight 370 conclusive proof of what happened to the missing aircraft physically. If any foul play is suspected, the authorities must answer who was involved. Finally, if this was an act of select individuals, why did they do it? These answers are too important to be left unknown.
Opinion by Amit Singh