The following post was written by my wife after a dinner conversation we had about human psychology and the need for us to believe that the missing Malaysian airliner had somehow landed safely.
For the last 10 days, almost every conversation I’ve had has either started or ended with speculation about the missing Malaysian Airlines jet (#MH370) and the fate of its passengers and crew.
The world seems transfixed by the mystery of the missing plane, and what its disappearance might mean. Although details remain sparse, the few clues we have would seemingly rule out a catastrophic accident as the cause of the plane’s disappearance, leaving more frightening possibilities on the table. This morning comes news that debris has been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean - possible remnants of the aircraft. But still we wait to know for sure.
Many people I’ve talked to have elaborate theories about what might have happened to the plane. Few, if any of us, possess enough knowledge of aircraft or aviation to make a truly educated guess, but many (myself and Rupert Murdoch included) have speculated, based on information we’ve snatched from the Internet or seen on TV, that the plane could have made a secret landing. At least that is what we want to believe.
The theories that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 could somehow have evaded radar, flying low over the horizon or ‘ghosting’ another airplane’s path and safely landing at a mystery location, come from our need to convince ourselves that what happened on September 11 was an isolated incident from which we have now protected ourselves, one that won’t happen again and can’t happen to us. Because if it will or can, it just got much, much scarier to fly.
I fly regularly, because I currently live far away from my family. My husband flies almost weekly for his work, and my siblings and their spouses and many of our friends fly all the time to far-flung destinations for business and vacation. In a post-9/11 world, each time one of us steps onto a plane we are asking ourselves to suppress that piece of our nervous system that says ‘Could it happen again?’ It’s almost impossible not to. As if we needed any reminder, before we can even board a plane we all go through that same security circus of tiny plastic bags, cold feet and hastily consumed water as a direct result of what happened on that beautiful, sunny morning. I often find myself in my seat before takeoff, looking around and thinking ‘Was it any different for them that day?’
Many have speculated, without very much evidence, that Flight 370’s pilot and/or co-pilot were involved in the disappearance of the plane and its crew and passengers. For me, this is the scariest possibility of all.
Each time we fly, we place our lives in the hands of the highly skilled men and women at the controls of our planes. Our loved ones send us off on our trips and we buckle ourselves into our seats believing in the unspoken contract that we will be transported safely to our destinations with their protection. If, god forbid, something were to go wrong, we comfort ourselves with the thought that it would be a mechanical error or, at the very, very worst, terrorists who, along with the brave crew, we could at least try to fight.
The thought that danger could come from the person(s) in whom we have placed the most trust brings a new element of terror to an activity that many of us cannot avoid. It may be a fantasy, but it is so much more comforting to believe that Flight 370 landed secretly and safely, and that the lives of its more than 200 passengers and crew weren’t arbitrarily taken by its captain or co-pilot for reasons unknown to us.
I hope that soon we will have answers about what happened to Flight 370, especially for the families of the passengers and crew, who are suffering mightily right now. I hope that if the flight’s pilot and/or co-pilot weren’t involved that they are swiftly and convincingly cleared.
And I hope that there will be a time when I can get on a plane without hearing that inner voice that asks ‘What if?’