the enduring mystery of mh370 and why we’ll never let it go
Call me a weirdo, but I love airplanes and flying. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many flights I’ve taken over my life but statistically, it’s above average. And this is why an incident like the infamous flight MH370 sends a chill up my spine. Just imagine getting on a plane for a routine flight and never coming back, the plane seemingly vanishing from existence, and you’re lost to your family and friends forever. It’s a terrifying thought, and the fact that it actually happened in real life, to real people, is what makes the incident so fascinating and gripping.
This is why just in time for the nine-year anniversary of the event, Netflix released a three-part documentary trying to summarize what we’ve learned, and what quickly becomes apparent is that we still know pretty much nothing. Was the plane hijacked by a suicidal pilot? Or Russian spies trying to divert the world’s attention from the invasion of Crimea? Was it taken by aliens? Was there a malfunction or fire on board? None of the theories seem to add up as every look at the scant evidence refuses to help anything add up to a coherent story.
Worse yet, over the years, narratives have settled in for journalists, researchers, families, and pundits who championed a particular theory, and they’re now unwilling to budge from them. Even in the most self-reflective and honest moments in interviews, they oscillate between frank admissions that they have no evidence to prove their pet hypothesis, then doubling, or tripling down on it within the time it takes them to say “but the thing is” after a dramatic pause. It’s no longer about the plane and its passengers. It’s about closures, careers, and reputations.
Now, we could summarize a full timeline of the events and lay out all the theories, as well as their shortcomings and loose ends, but if we did that, we’d end up with a small book, a rehash of a show you can watch in two and a half hours, and no closer to any concrete answers. Again, the simple fact is that we don’t know what happened and don’t have enough information for any particular explanation to make more sense than others. No matter what you offer, there’s not going to be enough proof, and that means imaginations will run wild.
how conspiracy theorists filled the news vacuum with nonsense
Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to accept any explanation. Many are just plain illogical and ridiculous. Hijackings by Russians or North Koreans as media distractions, complete with false flags, planted evidence, hacking satellite data, or that American jets shot down the plane to stop a “mysterious cargo” are patently bonkers. Maybe not quite as bad as aliens capturing it in their tractor beams or secret military experiments bonkers, but not exactly that far off in the grand scheme of things.
Why would Putin or Kim Jong Un hijack a jet, presumably kill all those on board, then go out of their way to plant evidence to keep what was the biggest story in the world going months and years after it presumably served its distracting purposes? And why would the USAF go as far as to shoot down a passenger plane to keep what we’re told is weird cargo out of Chinese hands when China steals American secrets all the time? Unless those “mysterious” electronics had an active remote control to America’s nukes, it seems like wild overkill.
Much like the official narrative, the conspiracy theories are also full of holes and loose ends. A trio of Russians on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing seated close to an avionics hatch which houses the plane’s satellite communications doesn’t mean they would’ve been placed there by the GRU to sneak into the compartment and take remote control of the plane. (Which is just not possible in the first place, technically speaking.) All that for a week’s break in the coverage of the Crimean invasion as headline news seems like way too much work.
Similarly, there were no known passengers with any ties to North Korea on board, and flying to the hermit state would’ve required refueling, that is, Chinese assistance. To hijack a plane with mostly Chinese nationals. You see how this idea is just plain stupid. And as far as the mysterious two-and-a-half-ton box of electronics that would’ve warranted the USAF to down MH370, both its existence and supposed delivery by escort rely on a few out of context snippets, inferences, and rumors. For an accusation this big, we need a lot more than that as evidence.
why knowing nothing can be worse than knowing the truth
Here’s the bottom line. We don’t know what happened to MH370. We may never know what happened. We simply don’t have enough reliable data, and what data and evidence we have is of both low quality and quantity, which is why the official Malaysian investigation ended with the equivalent of a formal shrug with upturned palms. So, of course the families and the public don’t want to accept this and accuse the officials of lying or coverups, demanding to know how in the age of GPS, satellites, and seemingly ubiquitous internet, one loses a plane.
We want to listen to conspiracy theories which establish wild, complicated, weird sequences of events so we can explain to ourselves that this could never happen to us. We could never board a humdrum flight, take off, then vanish into thin air an hour after takeoff. That’s impossible. It’s not a thing that happens unless aliens, or Russian spies, or military jets, or Mothra are involved. That’s what we want to be able to say with a straight face and it’s terrifying that we can’t, and this seemingly impossible scenario actually happened and killed hundreds of people.
We don’t want to think about the fact that vast swaths of the world do have very little to no coverage by communication networks, that due to very basic orbital mechanics, our satellites can’t and don’t watch everything all of the time, and don’t report back to civilian equivalents of NORAD where every plane or large bird are watched 24/7/365 by thousands of unblinking eyes. Sometimes, planes can be on their own and it is possible for them to fall out of contact or be ignored by a military radar because the personnel don’t know they should track the signal.
In short, we will keep coming up with conspiracy theories about MH370 for the same reason we invented elaborate monsters in the dark to explain things that go bump and remind us that we are not always in control of our own destiny. What happened to the plane and those aboard is absolutely terrifying, and our minds refuse to accept that we may never know what it was and that it could happen to us, even if the odds are absurdly remote. Until we find a definitive and satisfactory answer, we’ll keep coming up with our own. That’s just how humans work.