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Abhishek Dalal, International Affairs

Vanished Into Thin Air

These past two weeks have been torrid ones for the world’s leaders, with an outlandish and largely controversial referendum in Crimea finally leading to its annexation. Little did I think that the focus of my article this week would be on the rather mysterious developments in the Malay peninsula, following the almost bizarre ‘disappearance’ of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, on its regular red-eye service from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

So let us just take a moment to absorb the absurdity of the situation we find ourselves in. In an era of unprecedented connectivity, a Boeing 777, a flying monstrosity with 239 people on board, has simply vanished from the face of the earth. Nearly 16 days of investigation have been largely fruitless, with nearly twenty-five countries committing resources to a search that spans eleven countries as of now, with the Malaysian authorities increasing the search area even as we speak. A keen eyed Political Science student will point out the classic coordination problems posed by a rescue effort of this unprecedented magnitude. The search effort that has dominated primetime coverage across all major networks remains so hapless that the Malaysian authorities and elected representatives have been left ducking for cover.

So what happened to flight 370? Did Godzilla himself pluck it out of the air? Investigations thus far have not even been able to eliminate such a non-possibility. The Malaysian government has remained disturbingly tightlipped about its investigations. They authorized searches of territory that so obviously contradicted data their own military radars picked up, wasting precious time and scarce resources. So was this just a case of one major security breach? A security breach that began even before flight 370 departed its boarding gate with as many as four passengers traveling on counterfeit passports. Almost two weeks into the investigation, Prime Minister Najib Razaq openly called the diversion of the flight “deliberate” and now has admitted that the plane may have gone down in the Southern Indian Ocean, ruling out any chances of survivors. Conspiracy theories regarding the disappearance of the jet range from plausible to downright bizarre, and yet, if the perpetrators of such a diversion were successful in evading radar coverage and in ensuring that the 239 passengers were either neutralized, we must grapple into the realms of the implausible in order to either find the missing plane.

Regarding Mr. Razaq’s cabinet and its handling of this issue, it is easy to notice the glaring procedural lapses that started with remiss immigration officers and finally an almost deadly glitch within surveillance wherein a giant triple seven was allowed to fly over the Malay Peninsula almost undetected. In a post 9/11 context, an angry Malaysian public will not be so sympathetic to a government that has botched up an investigation, then attempted to save face. So while the Godzilla theorists conjure up radical explanations, let us not forget the glaring mistakes committed by authorities at one of the world’s most advanced airports, in a country with rising prosperity and growth rates.

To sum it all up in one sentence: The world’s safest passenger plane with 239 aboard has simply gone missing, and almost sixteen days into the investigation, authorities are not even in the position to rule out any possible cause for such a strange disappearance. My heart goes out to the affected passengers and their families. We can only hope that the expanding rescue efforts lead to some fruition.



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March 2014
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