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Jets Disappear More Frequently Than You Might Think

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 12:35pm
Tia Nowack, Associate Editor, IMPO

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is a mystery that has people completely perplexed, and probably terrified.

How does a plane vanish? In an era of radar, radio traffic control, and other technology, it seems unfathomable that something as closely monitored as a jet can disappear.

But the plane has been missing for over a week now, and global aviation experts still don’t have an answer. Massive search teams have been mobilized to look for the potential wreckage in the Indian Ocean, and military defense experts have even used nuclear test data to search for an explosion.

The only lead in the case came today from Reuters. Citing an unidentified source familiar with the investigation, Reuters reported that whoever was piloting the vanished jet deliberately flew hundreds of miles off course, heightening suspicions of foul play among investigators.

Earlier revelations by U.S. officials that an automated reporting system on the airliner was pinging satellites for hours after its last reported contact with air traffic controllers, indicating that the plane flew for hours before truly disappearing, adds to the theory.

But shockingly, the case of a missing jet isn’t as rare as we’d like to believe. The Associated Press compiled some notable disappearance since the dawn of the jet age in 1958:

— Air France Flight 447: After the 2009 crash of the Airbus A330 jet, debris was found within a few days but it took two years to find the main wreckage on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The jet had flown into a fierce storm over the Atlantic after leaving Rio de Janeiro for Paris. All 228 people on board died.

— Adam Air: A Boeing 737 operated by the Indonesian airline and carrying 102 people vanished on Jan. 1, 2007. Parts of the tail and other debris were found several days later, but it would take nearly nine months for the flight-data and cockpit recorders to be recovered. The fuselage is still on the ocean floor.

— Merpati Nusantara Airlines: In 1995, a flight operated by the Indonesia-based airline disappeared over open water while flying between islands in the archipelago nation. The de Havilland Twin Otter 300 with 14 crew and passengers was never found.

— Faucett Airlines: In 1990, a Miami-bound Boeing 727 owned by the Peruvian airline crashed into the North Atlantic after running out of fuel. There were 18 airline employees and relatives on board. The wreckage was never recovered.

— Uruguay air force: In 1972, a Fairchild FH-227 turboprop carrying a rugby team and others crashed in the Andes mountains. More than a dozen occupants died. After waiting to be rescued, some survivors hiked out and found help, and other survivors were airlifted to safety. Before being found, they resorted to cannibalism. The crash became the subject of books, documentaries and a feature film.

— Flying Tiger Line: In 1962, a Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation propeller plane chartered by the U.S. military failed to arrive in the Philippines en route to Vietnam. It was carrying 107 passengers and crew. Dozens of planes and several ships searched the western Pacific for the wreckage, but it was never found.

So what can be done to make planes easier to find in the ocean when disaster strikes? Check out what efforts are underway here

For more news and opinions from Tia Nowack, subscribe here and follow her on Twitter at @TalesFromTia

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