It is important to find the so-called black boxes from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to learn how to avoid, if possible, a tragic repeat of whatever caused the jetliner to disappear.
But it is equally important to find out what happened — to bring peace of mind to the families of the 239 people aboard, and to put an end to the ludicrous conspiracy mongering already taking wing. Conspiracy theories do nothing to ease grief or further rational thinking. Honestly, the world doesn’t need another entry in that bizarre little compendium of so-called “false flags” — faked moon landings, 9/11 coverups and Elvis sightings.
Among Flight 370 postulates zipping around the Web are that the plane and passengers are being held hostage in Central Asia; the plane was sabotaged or hijacked, possibly via remote control; extraterrestrial aliens commandeered the flight; it was shot down; and a meteor struck the plane.
Far more plausible explanations include mechanical or electrical failure, terrorism or the mental health issues of someone aboard, including the pilots.
Conspiracy theories fill a vacuum when facts are scarce. The idea of a random universe where unexplained things happen without warning is unsettling. Experts tell us people are engineered to attribute headline-grabbing events to human intent rather than chance or accident. The bigger the underlying news story the more likely we are tempted to suspect a momentous conspiracy. Official explanations of shocking historic events, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the death of Princess Diana, will never settle the issue for many people.
All the more reason to locate Flight 370’s black boxes, which would have preserved data about the flight. The boxes have battery-powered “pingers,” with the batteries designed to last at least a month. The jetliner disappeared March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, which means searchers for the black boxes can count on only another two weeks or so.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said an analysis of satellite data showed the plane had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, and the United States Pacific Command is sending a rig to that area that can pick up the signal from a black box as far down in the ocean as 20,000 feet. Problem is, the hostile ocean in that area — besides being beset by huge waves, dangerous currents and some of the strongest wind anywhere — is as deep as 23,000 feet in places.
Authorities also are searching for floating wreckage, but the area they are scrutinizing is as large as Oklahoma and Texas together. On Tuesday, the searchers’ effort was delayed by gale-force winds.
It is not impossible to find black boxes even after their batteries die; black boxes from an Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris were found two years later, but the searchers knew exactly where the crash occurred.
Already, angry relatives of Flight 370’s passengers and crew are shouting “Liars!” in the streets of Beijing, refusing to accept Malaysia’s explanation for the plane’s disappearance. When facts are scarce, conspiracy theories bloom, doing nothing but adding to the pain and making the world a little dumber.