How a Plane Can Just Vanish

Experts answer questions after Malaysian Airlines disappearance

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 11, 2014 12:32 PM CDT

(Newser) – The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight is raising plenty of questions beyond "where is it"? For instance, how, in an age of constant tracking, could it have vanished? And how could it have fallen from the sky? A look around at some of the answers being offered up:

  • The Washington Post explains how it might have dropped off the grid. Radar can only reach so far. Passengers' cell phones can't necessarily connect to networks in the air. And Malaysia Airlines doesn't seem to carry WiFi. As for the maps passengers see on the backs of seats, those track planes' activity via ground stations and would probably lack any information we don't already have.

  • What about the black box? Businessweek wonders. Why is that data kept inside a plane where we can't get to it, rather than transmitted from the plane? Mainly because of cost, the site explains. It would cost an airline $300 million per year to send out all that data. And airlines aren't likely to spend that money as disasters become rarer.
  • But how did the plane fall mid-flight, anyway? NPR notes a few factors that can affect a jet while it's in the air. One is mechanical stress from the cabin's pressurization and depressurization. But maintenance usually addresses that, and the Boeing 777 in question had recently been inspected. Technical failure is unlikely in today's aircraft, which are protected with back-up systems. Human error remains a possibility, but the most common issue while in flight is sabotage, an expert says.

A vessel is seen from a Vietnam Air Force aircraft during a search for a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
A vessel is seen from a Vietnam Air Force aircraft during a search for a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.   (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
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