What If the Missing Malaysia Plane Is Never Found?


malThe plane must be somewhere. But the same can be said for Amelia Earhart’s.

Ten days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people aboard, an exhaustive international search has produced no sign of the Boeing 777, raising an unsettling question: What if the airplane is never found?

Such an outcome, while considered unlikely by many experts, would certainly torment the families of those missing. It would also flummox the airline industry, which will struggle to learn lessons from the incident if it doesn’t know what happened.

While rare nowadays, history is not short of such mysteries — from the most famous of all, American aviator Earhart, to planes and ships disappearing in the so-called Bermuda Triangle.

“When something like this happens that confounds us, we’re offended by it, and we’re scared by it,” said Ric Gillespie, a former U.S. aviation accident investigator who wrote a book about Earhart’s still-unsolved 1937 disappearance over the Pacific Ocean. “We had the illusion of control and it’s just been shown to us that oh, folks, you know what? A really big airliner can just vanish. And nobody wants to hear that.”

Part of the problem, said Andrew Thomas, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transportation Security, is that airline systems are not as sophisticated as many people might think. A case in point, he said, is that airports and airplanes around the world use antiquated radar tracking technology, first developed in the 1950s, rather than modern GPS systems.

A GPS system might not have solved the mystery of Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. But it would probably have given searchers a better read on the plane’s last known location, Thomas said.

“There are lots of reasons why they haven’t changed, but the major one is cost,” he said. “The next-generation technology would cost $70 to $80 billion in the U.S.”

Experts say the plane’s disappearance will likely put pressure on airlines and governments to improve the way they monitor planes, including handoff procedures between countries. Flight 370 vanished after it signed off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers, and never made contact with their Vietnamese counterparts as it should have.

And if the plane is never found, liability issues will be a huge headache for courts. With no wreckage, it would be difficult to determine whether the airline, manufacturers or other parties should bear the brunt of responsibility.

“The international aviation legal system does not anticipate the complete disappearance of an aircraft,” said Brian Havel, a law professor and director of the International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago. “We just don’t have the tools for that at present.”

The families of the missing, of course, would face the most painful consequences of a failed search.

“In any kind of death, the most important matter for relatives and loved ones is knowing the context and circumstances,” said Kevin Tso, the chief executive of New Zealand agency Victim Support, which has been counseling family and friends of the two New Zealand passengers aboard the flight. “When there’s very little information, it’s very difficult.”

Tso said the abundance of speculation about the plane’s fate in the media and elsewhere is not helpful to the families, who may be getting false hope that their loved ones are still alive.

It has been nearly 50 years since a plane carrying more than two dozen people vanished without a trace, according to a list of unexplained aviation disappearances tracked by the Flight Safety Foundation. An Argentine military plane carrying 69 people disappeared in 1965 and has never been found.

Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, vanished over the Pacific with Fred Noonan during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Seven decades later, people are still transfixed. Theories range from her simply running out of fuel and crashing to her staging her own disappearance and secretly returning to the U.S. to live under another identity.

There is also an ongoing fascination with the Bermuda Triangle, where several ships and planes disappeared, including a squadron of five torpedo bombers in 1945. Studies have indicated the area is no more dangerous than any other stretch of ocean.

More than two dozen countries are involved in the effort to find Flight 370 and end the uncertainty, with dozens of aircraft and boats searching along a vast arc where investigators believe the plane ended up, judging by signals received by a satellite.

Gillespie and other experts said they expect the plane will eventually be found, even if investigators have to wait until some wreckage washes ashore.

“We all expect we’re going to find this plane and the chances are probably pretty good that we’ll find something. But you know, I think everyone thought that about Amelia Earhart as well,” said Phaedra Hise, a pilot and author of “Pilot Error: The Anatomy of a Plane Crash.” ”We know there’s a chance that we may never find out what happened. Which is a little scary, isn’t it?”



  1. What would the halachic ramifications be for a woman whose husband was on a plane like this? Would there be any way rabbonim could give her a heter to remarry?

  2. Please remember that we are speaking of a massive tragedy and the loss of human beings created in HaShem’s Image. The “tone” of any discussion should reflect the seriousness of the issue.

  3. Honestly,
    I also thought that it would probably be in a place like iran or somewhere rather close to the indian ocean in terrorist territory. But if you read the details of info that there is. It is indeed quite confusing. When an airplane goes up to 45,000 feet as did this airplane the oxygen masks come out automatically and only work for a short time. This plane when up this high and only a while later came down to below 35,000 feet. which is an indication of trying to avoid the radar and tracking systems. At that point the passengers could’ve been unconscious already and some maybe even dead. The signals were coming from a part of the plane that is underneath the floor in the general cabin. someone would’ve needed to go into the plane and pick up and know exactly where the box or mechanism is located , know how to lift that floor and work with the system; as it was explained on fox news. A pilot normally does not know the details of that mechanism only an engineer or a builder of a plane like this. There was an engineer on the flight. My assumption is from reading and listening to tons of the facts that did come out is that it was NOT the pilots. It was either the iranians with stolen passports and/or with the engineer that was flying on this flight. Definitely more than 2 pple. They mustve taken over the cockpit and changed and maneuvered the systems. As much as everyone is jumping to pilot suicide or pilot hijacking. I don’t think so. I still believe it was those iranians and others with them. And as was reported; iran isn’t sharing info on those passengers. could very well be that this flight landed somewhere bad.

  4. definitely a mystery that must be solved! and for all israelis flying to these third world countries with these airlines. There are so many precautionary measures that major normal airlines subscribe to for safety that could’ve tracked this plane even had they tried to avoid the radar or pings etc…… and this airline didn’t subscribe to it. You have Thailand or Vietnam that only came out today saying it spotted the airline a half hour after missing and didn’t care to report it cus milaysia didnt request…. This whole lack of vigilance and respect for human safety and life is a thing in third world countries and we have to remember that..

  5. This is not the appropriate venue to discuss the halochos of determining if someone is dead according to halocha. This is one of the most serious issues that the greatest of rabbonim deal with, and is not an issue for any “Coffee Room”.

  6. Geula, I am with you. Seems like the Iranians may have their hand in this. My theory is this, if the Iranians do have the plane, they may re-fit the plane with some kind of bomb. If they have any surviving passengers, they may have them and fly the now loaded plane and innocent passengers to Israel. Israel will have no choice but to shoot the plane down, or face suicide. The world will of course, rush to condemn Israel. And send peace keeping forces there, and then you will have World War 3. So that is my take. I hope I am wrong, please.