Vanishing aircraft takes on water

THE disappearance of several hundred airline passengers last Saturday, and the complete inability to find them is no laughing matter. But one must be forgiven a smile at the complete ineptness of Malaysian officials trying to explain the lack of news, and the sentinel service of Western journalists being rude to them about it.

As a fan of underdogs, I am on the officials' side.

I expect the airline and government officials, and those of the many countries, including China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the US and even Australia who are assisting in the search, are actually doing their best to find the aircraft, to satisfy their own curiosity as much as to relieve the anguish of relatives.

I expect also that what happened, if ever we find out, was not the fault of the Malaysian government, or the airline.

In this modern world, however, that does not mean they are exempt from expressions of our frustration about our inability to find out what happened, the mixed messages and less than polished releases of information and, no doubt, miscellaneous, misunderstandings among the very many cultures involved.

But frankly, there was a good deal more messing about, misinterpretation of the evidence, irresolution and self-serving lying going on before the relief of General Gordon in Khartoum in 1885. Or, in events surrounding the disappearance of Burke, Wills and King in 1861.


No one writes home about how Americans managed hurricane Katrina or can explain the vanishing of Amelia Earhart.

The Malaysians are probably getting a bad press but if you really want to see something cocked up, it is generally hard to go past native English speakers and their nations.

Moreover, if the solution to the mystery was so obvious it would not have defied the satellite systems, sophisticated radars and high technical capacity - including intelligence capacity - of some of rather sophisticated nations in the vicinity.

I once visited the CINCPAC war-room at Pearl Harbour and, having asked a question about Soviet nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean, was shown the exact locations of each of them - six at that time. Also watching the flashing lights (this in 1987) were a number of people who were probably reporting (and were intended to) to the Chinese government.

They might not have been able to duplicate all of this monitoring technology then on display, but the satellite imagery seen this week suggests they have not learnt a lot about the movements of foreign objects. The fact that government officials do not always know about such things does not surprise me.

But I am shocked at the ignorance of the experts on terrorism, intelligence, the Cold War, the War on Terror, conflicts in the South China Sea, piracy, Burma, Phantom comics, aircraft, flying and bizarre happenings who apparently have had no compelling insights either.

They, and various unidentified officials, have advanced a number of fantastic theories.

But it is amazing that no one has pointed a finger at Lieutenant General Angus Campbell and his notorious people-collecting expeditions taking place somewhere in the general area.

I would not be surprised if the passengers - once identified by our sophisticated early warning systems, including our over-the-horizon radar, as heathens attempting to reach Australia by the circular route - had not been brought gently to a halt in the sky by trained SAS officers. Then lowered by ladder into specially purchased yellow lifeboats and towed quietly back to Malaysia by Customs vessels.

That no lifeboats have yet arrived anywhere would no doubt be because of the well-known problem the Australia navy seems to have with compasses, GPS and maps. The lifeboats are probably even now off the South Georgian coast.

That we have been told nothing about it tends to confirm my theory. Although, before I am certain, I would like to hear someone - whether from the minister's office or Defence - deny it first. That's usually a sure sign it happened, though the silence speaks volumes.

In the meantime, the problem for the hapless Malaysians facing angry questions from journalists is compounded by the fact that there has been nothing new to report for eight days.

A more professional organisation would have choreographed the affair so that any fresh development, no matter how trivial, could be reported at least once an hour, 24 hours a day, if only to feed the chooks, as Queensland's Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen used to put it.

Whether the information is accurate or not is neither here nor there, particularly if it is couched in such a way that it can never be actually disproved.

It is not the quality of information that the hordes of journalists demand; it is the timely supply of quantity - or failing that, confrontations with sinister or guilty-looking people - someone like Mata Hari who can be in the background. Not forgetting excellent restaurants, hotels, beaches, swimming pools and fleshpots for the reporters to relax in after their arduous labours.

Very little information coming from ''coalition'' headquarters at Qatar during the liberation of Iraq bore the faintest resemblance to the truth, but that did not stop tribes of journalists from repeating it just in case it was true. That was because the Americans, so experienced in disaster management, know what the reptiles of the press want or need.

Journalism in Malaysia is a fairly servile occupation - ranking in the social and servility scale only slightly higher than the servile Malaysian judges who imprison anyone who looks sideways at a member of the Malaysian government, or who broadcasts a suspicion, that all is not as is pretended in the state.

In normal circumstances a few of the rough, rude, crude, recalcitrant and disrespectful foreign reptiles would be roughed up, jailed, fined by the compliant judiciary, then shoved on the next aircraft out, with no one in the tightly censored Malaysian kleptocracy being any the wiser.

Alas Malaysia is a bit down on spare aircraft at the moment, and a good many Malaysians are as transfixed by the mystery as anyone else. It is time, I think, for [former prime minister] Dr Mahatir to return to restore order, to blame everyone and anyone for whatever happened, and to impose Sharia law.