By Barbara Peterson. Photos: Getty.
Today, on the third anniversary of its disappearance, the mystery of what happened to Flight 370 is at risk of becoming a cold case—but groups representing the victims and some aviation safety advocates say they’re refusing to let that happen.
In the latest development, a U.S. law firm representing families of 44 of the 239 victims aboard the plane has filed a suit against Boeing, alleging that the giant aerospace manufacturer did not address potential flaws that could have led to the accident. The complaint outlines a number of scenarios that have been explored before, including an electrical failure or a decompression that could have incapacitated passengers and crew, while allowing the plane to fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.
The suit was filed in South Carolina, where Boeing has a manufacturing plant, and one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs is Mary Schiavo, a former DOT inspector general who was a frequent presence on cable TV in the aftermath of the event.
The timing of the lawsuit could be related to the fact that the three governments backing the search—Malaysia, China, and Australia—pulled the plug two months ago after spending $160 million on an underwater dragnet operation that came up empty. A spokesman for Boeing declined to comment on the pending litigation, although the company did issue a statement extending sympathy to the MH370 families.
Whatever the merits of the suit, a number of groups are calling for a redoubling of efforts to locate the missing Boeing 777-200ER, which was last heard from on March 8, 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The wreckage is believed to be somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean in an area several thousand miles to the west of Perth, Australia. Search teams spent two fruitless years combing the zone, first identified using satellite data from automatic transmissions sent by the plane as it flew south for hours after losing radio contact. Late last year, researchers identified a new area just north of the original site and experts think it should be examined as soon as possible.
Other wide-body aircraft have crashed into the ocean at depths similar to where MH370 is believed to have gone down, and were eventually found.
"For crash investigators around the world, the idea of giving up is very difficult to accept,” said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Board member who is now an aviation consultant. “Commercial airliners don't just disappear without a reason.” He also acknowledged that not knowing what happened, and why, is “unimaginable” for the families of those aboard. "The costs of not knowing what happened could be significantly greater if they end up contributing to another accident,” he said.
Others involved in aviation safety have expressed similar sentiments. The president of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, David Booth, said that in instances of aviation disasters, the goal should always be “to recover the wreckage to determine the cause of every accident.” Whatever the cost, he said, the global aviation industry should rally to “fund a search of all feasible areas.”
Still, three years on, what would it really take to continue the quest? It has been suggested that private sources could raise enough funds to mount a new search, and MH370 families are spearheading a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising around $5 million, a fraction of what a full-blown search effort would likely cost. Aerospace companies like Boeing are possible backers, but they haven’t said publicly if they would support the effort.
Goglia points out that other wide-body aircraft have crashed into the ocean at depths similar to where MH370 is believed to have gone down, and were eventually found. Two cases in particular stand out. After Air France Flight 447 crashed into the southern Atlantic Ocean in 2009, it took three years and many separate searches, funded by different entities, before the jet was finally found and the crucial black boxes retrieved. And, decades earlier, in 1987, a South African Airways 747 crashed in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean. The SAA plane was eventually recovered after almost two years of searching, from depths of nearly 16,000 feet.
In MH370's case, the clues are still few and far between. More than a dozen pieces of debris have been found, including on Réunion in the Indian Ocean and on sandbars in the Mozambique Channel separating southern Africa from Madagascar; a few were confirmed to have come from the jet, but other pieces are yet to be fully examined or identified.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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