The disturbing Malaysian air mystery

March 26, 2014

     My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones in the horrific and mysterious Malaysia Airlines tragedy.  Watching some of the coverage made me remember my long career in crisis management. Sure am glad this isn’t my crisis to handle.  A few observations:

Malaysia Airlines was ill-equipped to handle this tragedy and especially ill-equipped for the world stage it found itself on. Then again, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to communicate in a situation with so few concrete answers.  The 24-hour media are a grasping bunch, taking every little thing and blowing it up into a reality rather than a possibility. In a situation where nothing is clear, misinformation abounds.

The airline was also ill-equipped to investigate such a strange occurrence and it looks like they might not have taken help quickly enough from countries with more advanced technology.  In the back of my mind I believe that had this happened to a U.S. airline, the investigation would have been more straightforward even if the answers were not. Still, some three millions square miles have been scoured by multiple nations with only a few clues. So far.  The search might be complicated by the possibility that nations are not showing all the proof they have so as to keep the extent of their technology secret. If true, that’s got to be frustrating for the families.

Despite the pervasive use of text messaging, it was a very bad idea to text this bad news to family members. A very bad idea.

The response of some of the families to the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech in which he definitely stated the plane had crashed into the sea puzzled me, even as I saw it as a outgrowth of extreme grief and even shock.  Although there was always hope that the plane had landed in some far-off territory as part of a hijacking, surely the families had considered that it was more likely that the plane had crashed and had prepared themselves for this loss.  The fainting, the screaming, the violent protests struck me as extreme, as did the media coverage of families in their time of grief.

I’m not sure what to say about “closure” except that in the best of cases, it takes a while. It’s true that this was a shocking and strange situation with no real answers, but realistically, “proof” may take some time. And in my experience, closure is more an internal thing than an external one and will be hard to come by even when families know as much as can be ascertained about what happened to the flight.

Does this sound cold? I don’t mean it to. Maybe what I’m most uncomfortable with is the media’s insatiable need to invade the privacy of families in their most vulnerable times and beam such personal footage into our living rooms every minute of every day.

Maybe it’s up to us to protest this, I don’t know.  What I do know is there are many puzzling and disturbing things about this event and the response to it and many more questions than answers. And in world that’s sometimes expected to be so “definite,” well, that can be hard to accept.

32 comments on “The disturbing Malaysian air mystery
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    It has a hoax-y sound to me. I totally agree with you about the speech and the background drama. And I don’t mean to sound cold either, but they stated the families were told this BEFORE the statement was released. I don’t get it. Maybe its cultural. But I still am (hoping?) wondering if there is another, more shifty answer to all this that “someone” is covering up.

  2. Karen says:

    It’s a very sad situation. And I agree with you about the media coverage–CNN in particular, with its endless stream of “experts” who seemed to leap on every tiny element and turn it into a “news story.” I think the only way to protest this kind of ridiculous parody of journalism is to switch it off, and encourage others to do the same. Media outlets cannot survive without the oxygen of viewership.

  3. Barbara says:

    Carol, I agree with you that the media has gone overboard in their “mission” to keep us, the public, informed about current events. In the process, they are creating more problems triggered by misinformation and invasion of privacy. If you start a protest, I’ll join you!

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    Everything about this story is horrible. From the event itself to how it’s been handled. Let’s – please – just hope that they don’t make a movie out of this tragedy.

  5. I think the whole thing is so strange. I have absolutely no experience with air traffic control so have no idea how a plane could get lost like that without a trace, and don’t feel it’s my place to fuel the media madness by making any judgements about what happened. But, I agree with you that it’s a horrible tragedy for the families involved who will possibly never have any real closure about what happened to their loved ones.

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  6. Kathleen says:

    I thought the same thing. The media coverage on the families was uncomfortable and over the top. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. But, the whole situation is so weird. Like the Bermuda Triangle back in the day.

  7. Lisa Flowers says:

    This story was strange from the beginning. And Carol, you are absolutely correct in that the Malaysian government wasn’t prepared for this.

    I returned from two weeks in Malaysia only days before the plane went missing. I spent five harrowing days dealing with Malaysian immigration authorities at the highest level of their government negotiating the release of a friend.

    Unfortunately, the way the Malaysia government handled this story, given what I saw and experienced there, does not surprise me.

    A very sad situation and government.

  8. I also feel that people, maybe normally marginalized, see the media as a way to keep the pressure on the search. As for answers? Will any answer be the right one?

  9. Hi Carol — When I saw the media clamoring around the grievers to capture their pain it made me so grateful I’d given up journalism. It was egregious behavior to say the least.

  10. Lynne says:

    This story has been strange in every aspect, and the 24-hour coverage on “potential” news is insane. My heart breaks for the grieving families. Those poor people can’t get a minute’s reprieve from the coverage.

  11. Remember that song Dirty Laundry by The Eagles? I don’t watch the news and this is one reason. My knowing about what is happening in the world doesn’t mean I need to know everything that is happening in the world. My knowledge of this event is not increased by watching the grieving families. That said, different cultures grieve differently. What is seen as extreme by us is probably typical and expected there.

  12. My heart breaks for those poor families. I wish there were some clear cut answers to give them better closure but it looks like this tragedy will remain a mystery.

  13. Ruth Curran says:

    Yes, there is a cultural element to grief and, yes,there is a cultural element to the right amount of transparency and, yes, we all want to believe that our way of dealing with both is the “right” way. Mix those conditions with this global desire — almost feeling like we have a right — to know and see everything, and we have a crisis beyond management. You are so right — closure is a internal and highly personal thing. There is no right or wrong way to find peace with something. There is no universal set of rules. I think what we protest, Carol, is this feeling that it is OK to judge someone who deals with both the unknown and grief differently. Even that feels hollow….

  14. Puneet Kumar says:

    I read each words here, I can feel there will be change if we have so many sensitive people around us. Voices will reach to everyone and change will happen.
    Needless to say that everything is commercialized even one’s grief but I am satisfied that there are people who are not like them. Heart is still pure. Eyes still have tears on grief of others.
    Thanks Carol for writing and thanks for your friends who write their feelings so clearly.

  15. Diane says:

    I totally agree. This story is strange, to say the least. I can’t figure out why there wasn’t a single text message sent out. Someone on that plane would have managed to do something to get a message out. It’s like everyone just suddenly disappeared. Very strange.

  16. TammyI says:

    This is the stuff of Twilight Zone episodes. I’ve watched this with the same horror as the rest of the world. And I’ve noticed a distinct cultural difference in grieving. I remember viewing the Japanese reactions after the horror of the tsunami. They were quiet in their grieving and crying. Respectful and thankful for whatever they had left. It impressed me then and impressing me now. Watching the Malaysia fiasco, I see that they handle their grief loudly, boisterously demonstrative and aggressively. Who can blame them…but it is a curious difference. We will never know the “real” story. Beyond weird…and beyond horrible.

    • anna says:

      Hi Tammyl,

      I’d just like to point out that the loud, boisterous and aggressive people are mainly the mainland Chinese, and not the Malaysians themselves. It doesn’t help, of course, that the media is constantly in their faces.

  17. anna says:

    Malaysia overall is ill-equipped to handle any crisis of this magnitude. Our politicians are inept and prone to making the most ridiculous statements publicly, only to attempt to retract them the next day by saying that the media misquoted them. Of course this is “alright” at a local level because the government controls the media (and issues all printing permits). Their normal response (in recent years) to any form of criticism of their governance is that they are the government and if we are not happy we should leave the country. Obviously this doesn’t work with the international media who will happily misconstrue all you say!

    I believe some of the lack of forthcoming information is also due to the government and/or military trying to hide the fact that someone was sleeping at the controls by not admitting to their mistake (they *claim* they thought the turn was due to air control directive). So basically they wasted valuable time by trying to save their own skin.

    The mediamonster did NOT help in any way either, often spreading more fiction and speculation than actual facts. Add that to a few thousand trigger happy social media fans (especially in Malaysia)… for the first few days it seemed that sensational rumours were proliferating like bunnies. The actual hard facts had to be ferreted from out behind the smoke screen.

  18. Judy says:

    BREAKING NEWS: Our oceans are full of garbage. Other than that, we still know nothing. But, for the obsessed, I highly recommend turning off CNN and checking out reddit.

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