I had hoped to avoid blogging about Malaysian Air Flight MH 370. However, as a former pilot and retired Senior Air Safety Investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), I know a little bit about airplanes and aviation accident investigation. With this background, I am absolutely disgusted with about 99.9 % of what I have seen and heard on the TV.
Aviation accident investigation is a VERY SLOW, VERY METHODICAL process where data is gathered and analyzed. Without an airplane or wreckage to examine, you have a very limited ability to actually state what happened. At the NTSB we only released factual data that we knew would not change. If we did not have the answer, we would NOT speculate. We would state our findings and move on.
At present, all we have is normal radio communications that cease, good radar data until the transponder stopped working, a course change, and the failure of the aircraft to send more engine data, all of this for unknown reason(s). All we know is that these events took place. In addition, we know absolutely nothing about what was going on in the cockpit or cabin.
However, this has not stopped others from speculating. Since the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370, we have been bombarded with 24 hour news coverage of the event. Speculation is running rampant on the TV. Interesting shows are being interrupted for the slightest bit of speculation. Talking heads, whose only association with aviation was to buy an airline ticket, are brought on the air to speculate about a probable cause for the disappearance. In addition, the articles written cover the range of all possible speculation, but none of them have the evidence to support their theories.
I find that I have to change channels or turn the TV off…… and if I don’t, I will most likely throw a brick though the TV, hoping it will travel through the airways and reach the absolutely ignorant talking head in their face.
The problem is THE BEAST (aka the 24 hour news cycle). Talking heads need to fill their time slots with something that will attract an audience as measured by the various television rating companies. These viewer ratings in turn translate into what the networks charge for advertising time, and that is how they make money. If your viewer ratings are low, your advertising revenues are low. However, if your viewer ratings are high, then you can charge more for your advertising time and thus make more money. Re-runs of previous programs can only go so far in filling time. The name of the game is to attract viewers by whatever means you can and sensationalistic speculation always beats out dull facts of no new confirmable information. Networks will interrupt any show regardless of how important it is, just to throw out some speculative tidbit on the continuing search for MH 370.
The Malaysian government has also contributed to the problem by their slow and contradictory release of information and then retracting and changing data after it was released. Many of the countries that tracked various aspects of the MH 370 flight do not have an established track record of cooperation.
Will MH 370 be found? Most likely, but not necessarily on the time schedule that the family members and the investigators would like. It may take years, and then again, the secrets of the flight may be found next week. There is no schedule in accident investigation. You gather all the evidence available and then move on. You fill in as much information as you can and, where you have an information void, you DO NOT speculate. Speculation is fine for intelligence gathering, but it has no business in aviation safety investigations.
Malaysia Flight MH 370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, and still the search continues. Other news items are slowly replacing the MH 370 story. The story is getting less air time, but the investigators are still hard at work. However, some networks still interrupt good programs with speculation and drivel, but eventually this too will cease. The networks created a monster with the 24 hour news cycle and it MUST BE FED 24/7 or they will suffer the consequences of loosing their life blood, their viewer ratings and advertising revenue.
In his book, “The Sign of Four” written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is quoted as saying: “..when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…”
Some day, the investigators will unlock the secrets of what happened to MH 370. They will review all the data gathered and analyze it. The investigators will not speculate to fill in information voids and they will issue a probable cause based on factual information available. The detail of the probable cause will be limited by the information available.
In the mean time, I personally wish the media would stop speculating, but I also understand…..they have created a very hungry beast that MUST BE FED 24/7. If they fail in this, the beast will eat them alive and thus the game continues. Feed the beast with whatever is available, be it truth or speculation, it does not matter, only that the minutes and hours are filled and the BEAST IS FED !!!
- Bob Hancock