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When information is badly handled

Seventeen months ago, a Malaysian airliner left at night on a routine flight to China from Kuala Lumpur and was never seen again.

In the history of aviation, there have been many instances when, for some reason, planes simply went missing during flight. However, what unfolded on this occasion has baffled experts around the world, and to this day the matter is unresolved.

To begin with, aviation today is still classified as one of the safest forms of transportation on Earth.

The reason is that most of the modern jets carrying millions of passengers every year are built with the very latest technology, designed to provide safety at the highest level.

The aircraft involved on that fatal night was a Boeing 777, with triple backup systems for just about every function on the aircraft, and was fully capable of flying itself once in the air.

With an experienced captain at the helm, and a highly qualified co-pilot assisting, there was little reason to suspect that this normally six-hour flight would be any different from previous excursions.

Somehow it was not only different, but before the night ended, the truth surrounding what happened would be one of the victims of a tragedy that stunned the world.

This is not an observation of what actually happened, but instead is a look at what happens when information is badly handled.

It became dreadfully clear that when the aircraft reached cruising altitude on a calm night, something went terribly wrong with little explanation, and this sleek giant of the skies changed course and actually headed back towards the Malaysia area.

This, according to experts around the world, including a veteran pilot who had flown that route, should never have happened without alarm bells sounding aboard the aircraft and on the ground.

Instead, there was silence as the transponder, an instrument on the plane that sends out constant signals providing those following the flight with vital information regarding speed, direction and height, ceased to work for whatever reason.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with more than 200 passengers on board, had begun a fatal journey into history.

Moments after concern began to mount over the inability to make contact with the flight, as the world watched, seeking the truth about what had happened turned into a nightmare as officials scrambled to explain to relatives and friends of those on board that something had gone wrong.

What followed were months of confusion and an agonising wait for answers that are yet to come.

According to official reports, on that night the Malaysian air force picked up an aircraft in an area where no plane should have been.

But, again, global aviation experts were baffled that no jets were sent to check out this aircraft. Some experts said the culture of providing information in that part of the world involving aviation was questionable.

It later emerged that the Malaysian control tower, when asked about the flight, had mistakenly said everything was normal, with the flight on course. That meant the aircraft was off course without their knowledge.

After stormy sessions with people demanding answers, it was clear that most of the Malaysian officials were also in the dark regarding the flight, and mistrust and rage over the handling of this tragedy gained global attention.

After what is believed to be the most expensive search ever launched to find an aircraft yielded nothing, days ago, thousands of miles from the search area, something washed ashore.

It was believed to be a part of that missing jet. If that turns out to be case, it could provide a clue as to what might have happened. However, the real truth remains a mystery because no one knows exactly why a sophisticated modern airliner changed course with no alarms, and with no word that anything was wrong from the crew.

While modern technology has aided safety in flying, it has also created new problems. Federal aviation officials in the United States are having growing concerns about private use of drones that have on occasion entered restricted airspace used by airliners, with close calls. New technology dangers.

Meanwhile, the search for MH 370 will continue, although experts are fully aware that answers could be with whatever wreckage is resting on the ocean floor. It is another lesson in how mishandling information can be a problem in itself. Precious time was lost before a major search was launched.

Perhaps in time, the truth about that flight and what happened will be known, and this could only benefit international aviation in reaching higher safety standards.

Until then, the world waits for an answer to a perplexing aviation mystery.

Police carry a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a 'flaperon' from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing. Flight 370, which disappeared in March last year with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing (Photograph by Lucas Marie via AP)

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Published August 03, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 03, 2015 at 1:50 am)

When information is badly handled

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