Last month, CNN reported that bones that were discovered on a remote Pacific island back in the 1940s, are being sent to a renowned genetics laboratory, to have the DNA tested to determine if they could indeed be the remains of fabled missing aviatrix, Amelia Earhart.
More recently, the latest of many searches for Earhart’s missing a plane, a twin-engine Lockheed Electra, has come up empty. In the last two decades there have been 14 expeditions to the middle of the Pacific looking for traces of Earhart’s Electra, and many millions of dollars have been spent on them. Hopes were high for this latest search because it was being led by one of the world’s foremost undersea wreck hunters, Robert Ballard, the finder of the Titanic. He deployed the latest deep-sea search technology without finding a single clue.
The last time that Amelia Earhart’s voice was heard was at 8.43 a.m. local time over a remote corner of the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. But, why, over 80 years later, are we still so obsessed with finding out what fate befell Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, and yet a mere year or so later, the search for Malaysia Air MH370, where hundreds are missing and presumed dead, has all but ceased?
In the case of Flight MH370 the last of two official searches ended in June, 2018. This, too, deployed the most advanced deep-water search technology – and like Ballard’s search for Earhart’s plane, turned up nothing.
There are uncomfortable questions to be asked about these two mysteries of the deep, but the main one should be “why the hell are we still looking for clues to Earhart’s disappearance, and not into MH370’s?”
One involves a woman who achieved, along with Charles Lindbergh, an altogether new level of world celebrity based on the challenges of early aviation and, particularly, on the fearful risks posed by flying across, what at the time, seemed to be impossibly vast oceans. The other involves 239 souls whose names are unknown except to their kin.
What should the relative priorities be?
Finding traces of Earhart’s Electra may provide some historical significance, but it won’t solve any technological issues that could be a threat to public safety. She and Noonan risked their lives with navigational aids that were, by today’s standards, relatively primitive. The everyday crossing of oceans safely by thousands of flights was then a very far-off dream.
The need to find the wreck of Flight MH370 is entirely different. Here, it is not just about clearing up a mystery, or lending credence to dozens of conspiracy theories. No, the continuing and pressing point surrounding the disappearance of Flight MH370, is that today’s international air safety regime does not normally admit that it is even possible for a state-of-the-art jet to go missing without a trace. In the absence of a wreck, conspiracy theories abound, while the real issue that must be pursued is—did something happen to this flight that could happen again? Is the flying public at risk?
The whole reason why flying has become progressively so much safer is that every accident, minor and major, is relentlessly interrogated until its causes are understood—and then rectified. This has become one of the most impressive and vital learning curves in the history of science—complicated by the fact that air disasters are frequently not just about science, they are a complex combination of human and scientific factors.
And yet, unlike searches for Earhart – which still get funded despite failure after failure — there is no glamorous compulsion or, apparently, any lingering curiosity about the fate of the 239 the people who boarded Flight MH370 that evening in Kuala Lumpur.
Leaving many of us wondering why?
What do you think happened to Flight MH370, and why do you think all official searchers have been halted? Reply in the comments below.