In the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Ballardian Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the East or possibly the West of the Malaysian peninsula, here's an interesting account of all the ways civilian airliners keep in touch with ground control in the various territories they cross over. It reveals that quite a lot of the time they're not actually in touch at all. Those reassuring blips on the screen are sometimes just flight path projections, as they appear to have been in this case.
It's shocking - and fascinating in a morbid way - that you can just lose an airliner full of people, as though it was a collective Amelia Earhart. But maybe its not so surprising. It's not just that ground coverage is incomplete. There are more flights than ever before, flying from and between places where perhaps the staff are not too well trained, funded or attentive, over vast expanses of ocean, desert, tundra, jungle and ice. Perhaps the surprising thing is that it doesn't happen more often. I speak as someone who has flown over the arctic with this on my mind. Anyway:
This incident (frankly, we’re not even 100 percent sure it is a crash) is different. So far, no debris field has been found, the Pentagon reports that it detected no midair explosions in the area, and Malaysian authorities have issued contradictory statements about what primary-radar tracks they may or may not have observed. Based on the vast search area, it appears that authorities believe that the plane may have been deliberately flown far from its original heading. If that’s the case, then whoever redirected the plane might well have timed its abduction to coincide with the period when it would have slipped out of sight of the air traffic control system anyway.
The search for flight 370 is also hampered by the fact that the relevant sea lanes are literally full of crap. The almost certain bet is catastrophe in the air compounded by incompetence on the ground, but the resonances of the case are so strange that you wouldn't be surprised to discover that, 20 years on, some mad visionary pilot had taken his passengers to - say - sojourn among the Wa for urgent but incomprehensible reasons. After all, if the pilot was just intent on suicide/murder, why wait until he was out of contact?