How do you lose a jet? It’s been twelve days since Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Since that time international news outlets have churned out story after story, despite little ‘new news.’ In an era of unprecedented technology and connectivity, this is a true, bona fide mystery. It has become a search and rescue mission of epic proportions involving 26 countries and spanning the desert of Xinxiang, countless tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the vast waters of the Indian Ocean (to name just a few places that might hold clues to the airliner’s whereabouts).
From an investigative standpoint, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know whether this was a straightforward crash or hijacking and whether cockpit and crew have perished or are alive somewhere.
Already the case highlights the importance of interagency cooperation on a massive scale. As of press time today, Malaysia requested help from the FBI, which has joined the probe for the missing craft. Three passengers onboard are U.S. citizens, possibly traveling with an infant. “This gives us entrée,” one official reported to the LA Times, speaking confidentially because the FBI investigation is just beginning. He added the federal National Transportation Safety Board will probably be brought into the investigation, as well “because the jet was built by Boeing in this country.”
In addition, USA Today reports police will analyze hard-drives from computers seized at the pilots’ homes. Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu said files containing records of simulations were deleted Feb. 3. This could have been done merely to free up memory space, nevertheless combing the files could reveal unusual flight paths.
Malaysian police and FBI were also tasked with looking into anyone onboard with technical flying knowledge and/or links to terrorists. The New York Times reported FBI agents conducted link analysis, “a computer-based investigative technique that tries to discern connections between individuals based on extensive government and airline databases,” on the pilots and the two passengers traveling with stolen passports.
“Just because they were stolen doesn’t mean [they] were terrorists,” a Homeland Security source reported to the LA Times. “They could have been…thieves. Or they could have simply bought the passports on the black market.” The check yielded no connections to known terrorists.
Even suicide is a possible motive; probes will include deciphering the mental health status of everyone involved.
No doubt, locating the black box would be a big help. But that could take a while. In the meantime, searchers are employing radar, radio, sonar—even volunteer crowdsourcing—to cover large distances. According to Deutsche Welle, crowdsourcing Tomnod.com administrators say that with more than 100,000 page views every minute, they have been struggling to keep the site running.
The world is tasked with finding answers to this mystery and will employ some of its best tactics and resources. But it just goes to show there isn’t always a silver bullet method for solving a case, even a case as big as this one.