A Lenten reflection in the aftermath of the Malaysian Flight disaster
Australia, the land Down Under, has become the locus of search in the biggest air travel mystery in recent times. In a way, the shift of operational focus must have brought some relief to Malaysia.
Almost four weeks after flight ML370s went missing, Malaysian officials have begun to tire of trying to explain the mysterious disappearance of the aircraft. Equally wearied media keep looking for newer angles to avoid putting the story on the backburner. While search operations gather momentum, families and friends of the 239 persons seemingly martyred on an air-borne modern-day cross continue to hang on to fast fading hopes.
A look back at the events unfolding in the aftermath of the March 8 debacle may give some perspective. At first, reports about the missing jet seemed yet another episode in the 24-hour news cycle – one more disaster story. It did not enthuse too many. The unfolding story seemed to be limited more or less to the instinct of alert news media and routine follow-up by Malaysian Airlines.
None in authority seemed to know where the plane has gone. Others seemed less public-spirited as to share information routinely recorded in their machines. Initially, the Malaysian military and aviators of neighboring countries such as China and Thailand hesitated to share available bits of info about the unusual drift of the aircraft. Even Malaysian bureaucrats and airline officials seemed apathetic, until the families of the missing passengers lost patience. That was the turning point.
While some officials reacted poorly to the noisy protests, the heart-wrenching cries of the Chinese families wailing in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur touched the hearts of many worldwide. Such rare outpouring of fellowship elicits the best of the human spirit. Thanks to media, public grief waxed so high as to force lethargic governments to seek ways of assuaging people’s calls for action.
One positive development in this sad saga was the assurance given to passengers’ families by Malaysia’s acting transport minister. As international cooperation began to rally, he assured them that the search-and-rescue operation would continue. “As long as there is even a remote chance of a survivor, we will pray and do whatever it takes,” he said. Even though hopes of finding survivors became more and more unlikely, the prospect of recovering the remains of loved ones can sustain bereaved families. In most Asian cultures, such a prospect is essential to bring some form of closure.
No doubt, public outrage was a push factor prompting various other countries to volunteer technical information and backup not offered earlier. People’s growing frustration was later followed up with offers of equipment to search for the missing aircraft. If only such goodwill and technical support had been readily available earlier, the routinely monitored erratic path of the missing plane could have been promptly communicated. More importantly, such prompt communication may have helped save the lives of many passengers and crew.
Almost four weeks after the Malaysian Flight 370 went missing, a frantic search involving many nations is now underway for its black box. Ten airplanes and 11 ships equipped with sophisticated equipment from various countries have begun to scour the southern Indian Ocean for any such trace of the missing plane.
What has now begun is more a technological investigation to find why and how the Boeing aircraft went missing. It is not quite a search for survivors among the missing passengers and crew. According to media reports, even if the wreckage is located, there is little or no hope of their survival. Unless the flight had been hijacked elsewhere, the multi-country search off the western coast of Australia is all, too little, too late. That is tragic.
In an age when science is so advanced as to help humans reach outer space and traverse planets, there is no excuse for being ill-equipped to map and master movements in our own airspace and oceans. It is all the more unforgivable, if petty political point-scoring or regional rivalries inhibit inter-country collaboration essential for the welfare of all humans.
And as in the Tsunami or any past disaster, there is yet another unmistakable lesson here. No amount of technical equipment, no mass of scientific know-how can make up for a lack of humanitarian concern. After all, it is that godly spark called love that missions us as humans.
Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita, since retiring as Executive Editor of the Bangkok-based Union of Catholic Asian News. Besides decades of leading and mentoring what used to be a wide network of UCAN correspondents and staff around the region and in other continents, Hector had also headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka.