On Monday, Malaysia confirmed the worst fears of families and friends of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: The flight went down in the southern Indian Ocean and there was no hope for finding survivors.
Little else was confirmed, reflecting the mystery that has riveted many worldwide since the plane disappeared. The unanswered questions compound the tragedy and keep victims’ families from closure, if that is ever possible.
After a bungled beginning, the airline and Malaysia’s government finally turned to outside expertise. A British company, Inmarsat, provided the satellite data used to determine the fate of Flight 370. And multiple countries contributed to the maritime search. Malaysia will need further international expertise to find the flight recording devices and determine if the disappearance was intentional.
But for now, without physical evidence or actionable intelligence, what happened is left to speculation. Some of that speculation is natural. Planes disappeared during aviation’s pioneering era, not in today’s much safer era of air travel. And given the level of NSA surveillance and social-media sharing today, the juxtaposition of a jet vanishing when little else is hidden only added to the interest.
Some of the speculation was exploitive, however, particularly when it eclipsed concern for victims or other important news in which there were actual facts to report. CNN wasn’t the only news media outlet to show bad journalism judgment, but it was the most notable.
In addition to the search for a cause, many of those who followed the story of Flight 370 want to know what will be done to ensure that no future flights mysteriously disappear. Better tracking technology is available by using satellite systems instead of radar-based systems, but they’re expensive. Neither the airlines nor those who regulate them have prioritized mass adaptation. That will need to be rethought in the wake of this tragedy. And just like the eventual global response to searching for the missing flight, requiring new systems should be a global response, too, instead of a piecemeal, country-by-country strategy. Unlike after 9/11, there’s no need to immediately disrupt the flying public and the civil aviation industry. But the goal should be improved tracking worldwide.
As the next phase of the story unfolds, it’s important to not forget the victims, their families and their friends. It’s also essential to keep in context that despite this perplexing tragedy, air travel remains remarkably safe.