Writing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Lost in the conversation about what could have caused Malaysia Flight 370 to go missing on March 8th during a routine flight to Beijing, is any discussion over the calamity that could have occurred, a mid air collision over one of Malaysia's populous urban centers.
When the transponder stopped working on the Boeing 777 jetliner, it was flying in the dark of night and headed Lord knows where.
In the same air space at the time were at least two Malaysia Airlines wide body jets and several other airliners. A medical charter jet, piloted by Richard Fulton out of Singapore was also flying in the vicinity. I'll assume Fulton and all the other pilots fully expected all the other planes to be where they belonged. They have a right to think that.
Air traffic control has one very important job; keep airliners separated. It can't do that when it doesn't know where everyone is. Yet from 1:21 am, for reasons unknown, Flight 370 was nordo, providing only skin paint returns to radar transmitters. That it did not collide with any one of the other planes in the sky that night is a miracle.
A this point, it appears that the plane ended up in the South Indian Ocean with the probable loss of all 239 people on board. But consider this, had it flown into another plane on this busy route, the casualties could have doubled and that's not taking into account the possible loss of life of those on the ground.
Perhaps Malaysia's civilian radar facilities are incapable of providing good returns from primary targets. If that's the case, that's a problem. On the other hand, The New York Times recently reported radar in the region was too robust for the plane to have gone unnoticed by some countries, China and India among them.
Whether Malaysia military radar picked up the plane and disregarded the blip as unimportant, or failed to see it at all, is still not clear, even after more than two weeks of press conferences dominated by questions of whether the Malaysians are going to apologize to the Chinese families who lost loved ones on the flight.
That is the sort of inane questioning that takes up limited valuable time reporters are given to get the facts from officials. And that kind of question results in equally inane answers from Minister of Transport and Defense Hishammuddin Hussein. Today for example, he decided to get offensive, saying the Chinese need to understand that the Malaysians lost loved ones on the flight too, as did the Australians. They've been "very rational" he said.
Forgive my digression. Like Alice in Wonderland, I've wandered into a strange place.
My point is that the transponder on Flight 370 stopped operating at 1:21 am. From that point until 2:11 (or 2:15 am both times have been given) this plane was either not detected by civilian and military radar or it was detected and no one did anything about trying to identify it or warn planes in the vicinity that it was there. Either way, its creepy, raising all sorts of concerns about the integrity of the airspace through which the world's airliners pass to and from Asia.
|Hishammuddin Hussein at one of the daily briefings|
Air travelers should be horrified, airlines should be cautious. Minister Hishammuddin ought to be mortified. Instead of picking fights over whether grieving Australians and Malaysians are comporting themselves better than grieving Chinese, some energy ought to be spent making sure the folks assigned to knowing where airplanes are flying are doing their jobs.
Every day, Hishammuddin spends a portion of his time telling reporters that he is thankful for the efforts of all the countries who are spending millions by sending their ships, planes and personnel to search for the missing airliner. He ought to be. Had his own agencies; defense and transport been doing their jobs, the plane might not have gotten lost in the first place. And he ought to be thanking his lucky stars that the catastrophe wasn't worse.