Mystery in Malaysia recalls past crashes: Matt's Memo

Malaysian Airlines 777.

Take off was delayed for a brief, but critical time. The jetliner took off heading north. A short time into the flight a sudden explosion blew a gaping hole in the hull. At full altitude of 35,000 feet there were no survivors. The date was December 21, 1988. The light was Pan Am 103. If the plane had not been held up briefly at Heathrow the pieces, parts and passengers of Pan Am would have scattered into the ocean.

The timer in the piece of luggage not associated with any passenger on board was set to go off when the Maid of the Sea was scheduled to be out over the ocean. If that had occurred one can only guess the challenges the investigators would have faced. Even with the debris scattered over land it appeared to be an impossible task.

This series of events comes freshly to mind as we wonder what happened to the Malaysian Airlines flight last Friday. We intimately know the facts of the Pan Am 103 due to the Syracuse University connection to that terrorist act. We do not know what caused this week's presumed crash of the Malaysian flight. Former investigators say there is not choice, but to begin investigating as if it was a criminal act. That does not mean the conclusion will point to terrorism, yet they must start looking now to preserve evidence, interviews and records.

American experts will be involved with the investigation. The Boeing jet was designed and manufactured here, plus the U.S. has aviation specialists that can make a difference.

TWA 800 is another downed airliner that comes quickly to remind. I recall traveling to Long Island in the days that followed TWA 800 exploding just off the coast shortly after take off. There was no question where the plane went down. The water was not too deep. Piece by piece the wreckage was recovered and reassembled in a hangar. The explosion ultimately was attributed to a spark in a partially filled fuel tank that split the jet apart.

The Malaysian mystery can not be cracked without finding the wreckage. There is hope that the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder are intact and will provide evidence of the final moments of flight. But, first the search party must find the spot where Malaysian Air MH370 went down and where the ocean carried it to its final resting place.


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