Here’s Why the Investigation of Malaysia Flight 370 Is Not Working

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The search is over, but not before the 24-hour news cycle had its day. The biggest winner, of course, was CNN whose producers saw a story with legs and ran with it. In fact, they ran so well that they managed to beat their competitor, Fox News. Adage noted that “CNN’s audience has surged 60% since the news of Flight 370 broke.” As the Ukrainians were fighting for their independence, CNN had “essentially gone wall-to-wall with coverage of Flight 370.” I felt like I was back on Fantasy Island and Tattoo was yelling out, “The plane, the plane!” But where was it?

Days went by and still the “facts” and theories regarding the missing Malaysia Flight 370 were going off in all directions of the psychological and physical compasses. Martin Savidge, a CNN reporter, sat confidently in a jet simulator and explained how even I could turn the plane’s transponder off with just three clicks of a convenient switch. I now know that and I also know that this was a hint at one theory: the crew did it. I suppose this is the aviation equivalent of a likely suspect when a wife or girlfriend is killed. Of course, it’s the husband or the boyfriend. Got it, Martin.

So that provides a nice segue into NBC’s Bob Hager discussing that unusual sign-off of “All right, good night” from a crew member. Again, Bob seems to be pointing to the crew. And now it’s another guest’s turn to chime in. Security expert Evy Poumpouras also fired off on how wrong the investigation was going for The Reid Report. She would have begun on “day one” an investigation of everyone on the plane, pulled all the equipment from the pilot’s home (he had a flight simulator) and asked the Chinese government to “peek” into their databases for anything of use. Sure, she admits this would be expensive, but you do it. I’m not so sure we have that kind of relationship with the Chinese government, though, Evy.

Still, she offers no theory of a motive for what might have happened, but everyone, for sure, has to be immediately investigated, especially those two guys using the stolen passports. Her Gatling gun delivery leaves Hager sitting there as she grabs the camera’s attention and allocates most of the interview time for herself.

Her training as a certified fraud examiner, I’m sure, comes in very handy when planes are missing. I’m beginning to wonder if her belief in body language also helps now that we know that it’s no better than chance, according to a recent New York Times article. Yes, the article cited research, but not Ray Birdwhistell’s.

The experts are spouting forth in a manner that they’ve been taught in school or trained in seminars, but it’s still, the way I see it, hidebound and constrained. Their investigations are primarily regarding the potentially nefarious crew and the pilot’s extreme love of flying. How could he love flying that much that he’d have a flight simulator in his home? Must be something wrong with him, they’re thinking.

Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz didn’t offer a theory of what happened to the plane either, but she did try to see the brighter side of the disaster. In her TV interview, Saltz validated the tidal wave of TV media coverage by proffering that we’re fascinated because it’s either a whodunit or an opportunity to get vicarious thrills without actually being in a doomed plane. Clever way to look at it, I must say.

Where is their ability to offer clear, innovative insights rather than step-by-step procedures about “how” you do these types of investigations? Step-by-step? What about looking at the problem from a totally different angle rather than the one that is causing you such myopia at present? Is this such an impossible task I pose for you? Well, try to pull your big-boy or girl shoes on and give it a unique twist. Can you do that?

I’m not a forensic investigator, I haven’t worked for the FBI, nor have I been involved in any type of uber-surveillance activity, so I don’t claim to be an authority here. What I do claim to be is someone who is looking at the problem and seeing one thing stand out like a sore thumb: the number of cultures and invested interests involved here. True, it’s an incredible area that needed to be searched and it takes a lot of people and equipment to do it. Which discipline might be most helpful here? For my money, it’s a social psychologist who would be most appreciative of the nature of the problem and where to begin.

Social psychologists study how people work in groups, and the group in this search would present quite a task for even the most experienced social psychologist. But they would see that there are many problems of pride, trust and coordination regarding what ends are to be met, who should be in charge, how information would be filtered and how best to use the person power available. They’d also be able to help people deal with authority figures within that culture.

Why didn’t this search produce the results everyone hoped for and why were so many millions of dollars wasted in an area that was known not to be one of the main target areas? A social psychologist could offer some answers, and I think I know what they’d say.

I think they’d say there are two things operating here: national pride and an inability to tell an authority figure when they’ve got something wrong. Remember the jet that crashed in San Francisco last year where the junior pilot didn’t want to tell the captain they were too flying too low? I think something like that may be going on here.

Why didn’t the four guys in the radar station off the west coast of Malaysia pick up the strange blip on the radar screen, which could have signaled real danger? Someone has to answer that question if, in fact, this is true. We don’t even know whether or not it’s true. How many people are playing CYA here and how is that impeding the search?

Should we have done psychological assessments of the crew and everyone on the plane or of the people engaged in finding the plane and communicating information to others? Should we be trying to put blame on the crew, the passengers or some mysterious malevolent something we just can’t put our fingers on? Now that the search efforts are engaged in a rush to judgment, can they stop, backtrack and admit they are going on wild goose chases? Is there too much of that “something” element here to do that? What do we hear repeatedly in the media? The one word that is repeated over and over is “speculation.” Everyone is talking about speculation without making any substantial statements themselves. Let me provide one example here.

I am impressed by the radar and satellite technology used and the coverage of the plane’s flight path on TV with incredible graphics. But the one thing that really stands out in all this coverage is the lack of looking inward at the plane, and instead only focusing outward on the crew and passengers. Only sparse attention has been paid to the cargo manifest. The aviation experts all seem hung up on the turning off of the transponders by someone on the plane. Suppose they weren’t “turned off” at all? Go with that one, guys.

A quick search of the Internet reveals that lithium batteries (and Flight 370 had 200kg of these batteries in its cargo hold) pose a threat of fire and fumes. Diverse sources have pointed to the unpredictability of these batteries and their potential to catch fire.

A report from Great Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, with regard to lithium batteries, was cited in a BBC article that warned, “The risk of future fire-related incidents or accidents has increased due to the proliferation of lithium batteries and other risks.” The article gave some additional indication of the total risks. It specified that “a recent estimate said that the average small plane carrying 100 passengers could have 500 lithium batteries on board when you tot up all the watches, laptops, cameras, e-readers, tablet computers and such like.”

It’s fine to analyze, but first know what you’re analyzing before you go off on a predetermined tangent and puff yourself up with all your expertise. We don’t need puffery. The relatives and loved ones who had people on that plane are suffering enough without you pointing fingers like Buddha’s hand, the Chinese citrus fruit with fingers pointing every which way.

Oh, and by the way, some of your media coverage has been really helpful for amateur terrorists, as pointed out by The Voice of America. It detailed, “The information discussed has been compared to a basic aviation class — with details on radar, satellites, passport security, 777 capabilities and international communications.

“Terrorists have also been taking notes. That’s according to John Goglia, who spent 40 years in aviation — any of those with the National Transportation Safety Board.”

Aviation expert Goglia, said, “That’s been my fear from the very beginning — that there’s been a lot of information out that they may or may not have known. But they are getting very sophisticated, very educated — the terrorists. They know the system.”

I’m sure the future terrorists really appreciate the huge quantity of detailed info regarding planes, satellites and all the nifty little tips regarding plane hijacking. If anything, now you can’t say this investigation hasn’t helped anyone.

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