Tom Gutteridge: Missing Malaysian plane highlights need to tighten loopholes

The missing Malaysian airline Flight MH370 has highlighted certain measures that should be put in place within the aviation industry

Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777
Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777

Izzy was convinced the missing plane was lost in fog and would go home as soon as it cleared. Just like Mummy when she’s driving, except that she always phones Daddy to come and rescue her, even when he says it’s only mist and she should just follow the white lines. Mummy won’t drive in fog.

“What if it’s not foggy up in the sky, Izzy?” Jo asked her, quickly changing the subject. My daughter looked uncertain, thought hard and then said with far more conviction than the Malaysian prime minister: “Pirates stole it.”

Our whole family, like most of the world, is obsessed by the lost plane story. Sky News has temporarily replaced Nick Junior as our channel of choice, even though they’ve now exported the unwatchable, morose Kay Burley to be their presenter on the ground in Malaysia. I sometimes wish Sky would lose her in a fog.

I hope that by the time you read this we’ll know a lot more of what happened to Flight MH370, not just for the sake of those poor families being torn apart by the uncertainty and contradiction of the daily reports about their loved ones’ destiny, but also for the millions of viewers hooked on this unlikely saga.

I bet producers have already signed up Paul Greengrass to shoot the movie. Just imagine if it actually had a happy ending, and the passengers are reunited with their relatives on some distant Uzbekistan military airstrip, with the villain led away in chains and Brad Pitt the geeky radar operator-cum-hero saving the day, having put together the ping coordinates that finally located the plane.

“It’s definitely not Captain Hook, you know,” said Izzy, bringing us back to reality.

Why not?

“Because he’s not real, silly. But it could be a real pirate fairy.”

“So how will they get the plane back?”

“Easy. Tinkerbell and her friends will turn the bad pirate into a good one and they’ll fly to the cave hiding the plane and, pouf, (here she waves her imaginary wand), it will pop back out and fly everybody home.”

Frankly, the real story unfolding in the daily Kuala Lumpur press conferences is even less credible. If you were writing this plot as a thriller, I’m pretty sure you’d think no one would believe the chapter in which the incompetent officials had spent a whole week ignoring the report from their own military that the plane had turned left instead of going straight ahead, leaving everyone searching pointlessly in the wrong ocean. Or the fact that the pilot, a seemingly ordinary, everyday kind of chap, had privately built a complete working flight simulator in his bedroom. You couldn’t, as they say, make it up.

What annoys me about the coverage, though, is that it’s being reported like some Hollywood whodunnit. We’re waiting for the next absurd plot twist and suspect to emerge, whereas the actual story of Flight MH370 has already revealed serious, fundamental problems with the safety of all air travel and national security which should be discussed and acted on right now.

I’ve flown on around 25 international flights a year for the past 20 or so years. In that time, how many holders of stolen passports have I sat next to?

How is this allowed to happen in a post-9/11 world, where my toothpaste is confiscated at security, but an Iranian with a stolen passport, of which Interpol is aware, gets through? How often has the pilot of my plane allowed complete strangers into the cabin, so long as they wear short skirts and bring their own cigarettes?

Most worrying of all: in a world of incredibly complex aviation technology, how can all the world’s aircraft be made invisible by one person tripping a couple of little switches in the cockpit? Are we so naïve as to believe that all airline pilots are trustworthy, honest and safe? Have we not read stories of captains of transatlantic flights being arrested for drunkenness?

Why are we not screaming at the world’s aviation authorities to tighten these loopholes immediately, rather than waiting for the final chapters to unfold in this terrible drama?

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