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Review: ‘Why Planes Vanish: The Mystery of Flight 370’

Gabby Catalano ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Pilots Less Abend and Mark Weiss flying simulator in NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.
Pilots Less Abend and Mark Weiss flying simulator in NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.

Picture this scenario: an airplane is flying over the Indian Ocean, when suddenly, a passenger rushes to the cockpit, stabs the pilot, and hijacks the plane. Or what about this: a fire is set off in the bathroom, smoke rises, oxygen levels drop, and an explosion or crash are the end results. No matter how realistic or picturesque the stories seem, they are all merely assumptions leading to the inexplicable disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 or MH370.

“Where did things go wrong for this vanished plane?” That’s the question PBS NOVA attempts to answer in the hour-long episode Why Planes Vanish, which premiered on Oct. 8. NOVA Producer Miles O’Brien narrates the show, showcasing new tracking technologies, air traffic control systems, picture maps of MH370 routes, and recordings of pilot communication. O’Brien poses subjective questions throughout the show, leading to more ambiguity behind the disappearance.

For those who aren’t familiar with MH370 and its vanishing, the show provides a thorough synopsis. To debrief, MH370 was an international flight transporting about 230 passengers from Malaysia to Beijing. Less than an hour after takeoff, the plane sent its last message to Malaysia air traffic control, then disappeared on the radar.

Hours after the disappearance, Malaysia Airlines declared the plane missing. The next day, “the multinational search effort, which became the largest and most expensive in history, began,” said O’Brien.

Still from NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.
Still from NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.

Was it a terrorist attack? A mechanical error? A fire or a bomb? A failure in oxygenation? An explosion caused by lithium batteries? A pilot suicide? Considering all possible scenarios, experts and investigators may never offer a solid answer. The show features interviews with top engineers and air traffic controllers, detailing their perspectives on the dilemma.

Senior engineer of Inmarsat Alan Schuster Bruce believes that investigators are looking in the wrong ocean, while John Goglia from Aviation International News considers the possibilities of a mechanical failure, an explosion caused by unpacked batteries, or a bomb.

“There had to be human intervention. Someone on the plane wanted to make the aircraft vanish … It may’ve been a deliberate act,” said Goglia.

Or should the finger be pointed not at the physical plane, but the airlines? Clips from the in flight floor of Boeing 777 (the aircraft of MH370) show “commonly insecure” electrical equipment. When O’Brien asked Malaysia Airlines to comment on the security of their aircrafts, they did not.

“Malaysia airlines have a history of allowing people, with no authorization, to come into the cockpit,” said O’Brien. The lack of security does support the terrorist attack or hijacking option, though questions were raised by O’Brien, journalist Jeff Wise, and other investigators: “why would terrorists execute such an elaborate plan, knowing they’d get nothing out of it?”

Les Abend and Mark Weiss in cockpit in NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.
Les Abend and Mark Weiss in cockpit in NOVA: Why Planes Vanish. Photo Credit: WGBH.

After searching more than 300 miles of ocean for three months, nothing was found but “floating trash.” The possible MH370 ocean location is about the size of West Virginia, or so experts think.

The last question posed by O’Brien was, “how could this be avoided in the future?” Goglia and aviation experts have been compiling ideas for new designs, like transmitting data of airplane location by GPS and “making blind spots a thing of the past.”

The Titanic was found at a depth of 12,000 feet, 73 years after its sinking. The La Belle was found over three centuries after its shipwreck. With seven months into the disappearance of MH370, it may be awhile until we discover the mystery. For now, all we can do is piece together the skeptical facts, opinions, and biases, and take steps in amping airplane security.

“I don’t think we can figure out what the truth is. What we have is ambiguous,” said Wise.

To learn more about the MH370 disappearance and to watch the show, go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/why-planes-vanish.html.

Overall Grade: A-

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2 Comments

  1. This was more of a summary than a review, but of course, there’s no answer. Miles O’Brien is a bit more of a conspiracy theorist anyway. I still believe there’s the chance for an internal fire or other mishap besides the possibility of human intervention

  2. I find the timing of this release questionable, but more to the point one of the most likely scenarios is this plane was destroyed by a military unit at the behest of high ranking politocs, and all evidence was santized before the culprits could be identified-if you can’t even consider this a possibility (and this video didn’t even bring it up!) you are either:
    part of the opposition
    asleep

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