A litany of lapses

FINALLY, the international team involved in the search for MH370 has a concrete lead from Australian authorities that could indicate what happened to the Beijing-bound aircraft that disappeared 13 days ago.

At press time, it has not been ascertained if the "new and credible" satellite imagery provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is related to the ill-fated plane.

The world continues praying for the families of the 239 passengers and crew aboard MH370 who have been waiting for any information on their loved ones and the aircraft since March 8.

It is our hope that the days ahead will yield some information about what happened to the Boeing 777-200ER that took off in the wee hours of that day but did a turn-back a short while later.

It has been a painful time indeed for relatives of passengers and crew with lives torn asunder by the disappearance of the flight.

For the rest of us, one of the recurrent issues we may be facing is that of flying again.

For sure, flying will never be the same again for all of us after MH370.

I have always held my breath and said a silent prayer as the plane I was in took off knowing that no one could assure me that it would definitely land as scheduled.

Such moments were a realisation of my mortality and the fact that I had no control whatsoever in the matter with everything in the hands of a very much higher power.

Without sounding morbid, I think it is a truism that the moment we enter a plane we are going into a realm of endless possibilities that thankfully include a very high probability of a safe landing at the end.

Looking at the history of air crashes, fears of an aircraft crashing are absolutely remote with the number of crashes in recent times fewer than the fingers on our hands.

And this again with thousands of aircraft in the skies around the world at any one time.

We owe our safety to those piloting the aircraft and to the unsung heroes in air traffic control towers everywhere who ensure safe landings time and again.

I have been irked in the past when airport authorities made me take off my shoes and socks and walk barefoot on a cold surface with belt in hand.

Putting socks, shoes and belt on subsequently in full view of strangers can be a daunting task.

Then, there has been the identification of luggage on the tarmac just below the aircraft in all manner of weather conditions at some airports.

And this coming after countless checks of personal items from the time one checks in to the time one boards the plane.

In hindsight, I thank all those responsible for these moments that tried my patience. It is because of their painstaking adherence to detail that planes take off and land safely.

We should never take these precautions lightly ever again.

A number of issues have cropped up in the aftermath of MH370 going missing.

Airport security is at the top of the list especially after the revelation that two men were aboard the aircraft using stolen passports.

I am shocked to hear that this is not as unusual as one might think with syndicates allegedly dealing in such documents.

Surely, with the risk of terrorism always with us, countries must collectively embrace a single system of weeding out stolen passports as no one nation is free of the risk of this possibility.

The revelation that Malaysian authorities did not act on military radar picking up an unidentified aircraft in our air space not too long after MH370 went off the grid is most disturbing.

Much has been said about this with Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also acting transport minister, probably having the last word on the matter with an assurance that this aspect of national security would be looked into soon.

To be sure, several other nations which should have detected MH370 as it flew out of Malaysian air space but did not are in the same boat as Malaysia. Understandably, they may not be willing to tell all given their national security concerns.

But I am amazed that the United States with its sophisticated equipment at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean did not pick up anything on the plane.

Neither did India which admits to "black holes" in radar detection in the ocean it practically controls for the most part.

Thailand provided some radar information 10 days after the flight went missing.

I am no expert in these matters but my little understanding of military matters does not include such "lapses".

I, and many others fed on a steady diet of movie scripts where some militaries are on top of situations in far away places at the mere press of a button, am totally disappointed with the way things are unravelling in real life.

Admittedly, searching for MH370 in a huge swathe of land and sea has been a most difficult task with kudos to those who are still valiantly looking for the aircraft.
To them go our thanks and eternal gratitude as they try to bring closure to a mystery that will go down in aviation history.

It is clear that the families and friends of those on board the plane have been disturbed by the lack of information as they rightly should be.

But realistically, Malaysian authorities can only provide such information as they possess – mighty little at the moment given the unusual circumstances under which MH370 disappeared.

All said and done, Malaysia and the international community will have to learn valuable lessons from this unfortunate episode so that flying can be as safe as possible in future.

Balan Moses, theSun's executive editor (news), is sad that it takes crises to bring us together. We need to be one in good and bad times. The world is hoping that the latest lead from Australia will throw some light on what has happened to MH370.Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com