As the Australians Announce Their (Possible) MH 370 Finding

A clue that offers less hope for a safe recovery of passengers and crew, and possibly more hope for understanding what went on.
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Australian Search Map ( SBS Australia )

Main point: sympathies for the tremendous strain on the families involved -- Chinese, Malaysian, and others from around the world.

Secondary point: as I write it's not clear whether the Australian satellite sightings actually involve this flight. Short of the passengers being found live and safe, which unfortunately is hard to imagine nearly two weeks in, the most useful news would offer certainty about what actually happened. Let's hope that this sighting, unlike some previous ones, offers a real clue.

Insanity watch: I hope someone will look back on this and similar episodes for revealing lessons about individuals' and institutions' reactions in the face of mystery and uncertainty. Terrorism experts have immediately traced this to terrorism; Rupert Murdoch said one day after the flight's disappearance that the episode "confirms" a new jihadist attack on China. Last night Michael Oren, who until recently was Israel's ambassador to the United States, was soberly warning on CNN that the plane could well be headed for Israel on an attack mission. Cable news experts have been absolutely sure of one explanation one day, and sure of another the next.

When I noted yesterday that Oren's theory could be a mark of peak nuttiness about this flight, I got a stream of huffy messages like this one:

My original suspicion, which seemed to be quite obvious by last week, is that MA 370 was stolen by Iranian operatives (They don’t seem like terrorists, they’re just Iranians spending huge money flying all over the world on stolen passports, nothing terrorist-like there.) to take home to Iran. Of course, those agents would have needed to get access to the cockpit, assuming they didn’t have at least one pilot compromised, how could they gain access? Oh yeah, these pilots have a rep for letting pretty girls into the cockpit. Some pretty girls flirt with pilots at the airport, get in the cockpit, pilots incapacitated and agents in that fast.

Iran needs export controlled guidance parts from the 777 for their nuclear missile program.  The 777 was fueled up enough to get to Beijing, which means it had plenty to fly across the Indian ocean cut north and land in Iran, not go to the Andaman Islands. The only country who might have noticed, once the satellite transponder was cut, would have been Oman. I’m sure you’re aware Iran was visiting Oman just last week. I think it will also be clear that a certain number of high level officials in Malaysia were bribed/ ideologically motivated to help this along. The interesting question is what Iran intends to do with 220 or so Chinese citizens (and assorted others). The default would be for the bodies to never be found.

BTW. As you harrumph. It just happened. You also harrumphed about the idea of jets being flown into buildings before 9/11. Don’t deny it , you did. [JF note: News to me.]

2nd BTW. As I understand the guido parts in question, they wouldn’t be for the nuke headed towards Tel Aviv, they would be for the nuke headed to NYC. Why anyone thinks Iran’s second nuke isn’t for NYC just baffles me?

Meta-point #1: responses to a mysterious episode constitute a sobering reminder that only so much "debate" or "discussion" involves what you could think of as evidence or facts. People see what they're going to see.

Meta-point #2: modern airlines are so extraordinarily safe that when something goes wrong, the full story is usually by definition unusual. It is probably too much to expect that this will have a happy outcome, but I hope the outcome is known soon, among other reasons for quelling the nuttiness.

I will try my best to make this the last dispatch on the subject in this space, until something is known for real.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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