Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Not Losing Planes: Lessons From MH370

25 March 2014

In listening to a lot of people talk about the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370, I sometimes wonder if some of them truly have a sense of how remote some places in the world are, or how much it’d cost to monitor all that.
This article featuring a video with Mary Kirby talks about connectivity being the key. I don’t disagree.
However, a little over two months ago, I was on a ship sailing about 2,500 miles (4,000 km) almost due west from Valparaiso Chile to Easter Island. While it’s a remote place, it does have an international airport, cell service, most of that modern stuff.
What it doesn’t have? Satellite coverage in many bands for three of those five days of travel.
There’s something amazingly humbling (and somewhat terrifying) about being out of satellite range on what’s surely a cargo shipping route, especially when you’re sailing over water that is 13,000 feet (4,000 m) deep.
There are very few flights in the southern quarter of the world (by which I mean at least latitude 45° south). Here’s the entire list of settlements (where there’s at least 1000 people) south of 45°. That’s incredibly sparsely populated. Compare the latitudes with the northernmost settlements here.
So far as I know, there aren’t any southern polar air traffic routes the way there are so many northern polar routes. So probably the very last part of the earth that would get coverage is the kind of place where MH370 is believed to have been lost. I still think it’s too early to know that that’s the wreckage for certain, and I really feel for the people out there in the bad weather and rough seas doing that duty. Thank you.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do something more in the future to make these search and rescue (where “rescue” is more about confirmation of what happened and the opportunity to not do it again) efforts less costly. For me, the turned-off transponder is the single weirdest thing: that, combined with the believed wreckage position, doesn’t make sense absent the information we now lack.

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