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    Friday, September 21, 2018-6:25:56P.M.






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BC’s Tales of the Pacific: Mystery of the missing plane gets a reboot

REMEMBER Malaysia Airlines flight 370 that disappeared over the Indian Ocean several years ago, the one they never found?

In March 2014 the passenger jet, bound for China, steered off course and flew out over the Indian Ocean. Occasional radio transmissions showed that the plane was under control but not going where it was intended. Was it hijacked? Was there massive mechanical failure? Were the pilots up to something sinister? Although we have theories we do not know for sure.

A major international search effort was launched involving fifteen countries but after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars looking in every crack and crevice the searchers came up empty. In January of this year Malaysia announced that they were calling off the search.

However, it would be incorrect to say that no one is looking for the missing jet. It is more accurate to say that in January the search moved from the ocean to the laboratory. That is because scientists, mathematicians, experts on ocean currents, meteorologists and others who have special knowledge of the case have been working obsessively to solve the mystery. How could a Boeing 777 with over 200 people on board simply disappear? That is unacceptable. Just ask the families of those who went missing.

Debris from the doomed aircraft washed up on the shores of Madagascar and Africa, which led scientists to study ocean currents and drift models. They have narrowed the possible crash area to a relatively small patch of ocean off the western coast of Australia. But even searching the small area can be very expensive. That is where capitalism comes in.

The Malaysian government, after devoting major resources to the search, has entered into a contract with an American company operating out of Houston, Texas. The deal is to locate the wreck of MH370 on a “no find, no fee” basis. The company, Ocean Infinity, will search for the aircraft on their own dime and get paid only when they find it. If they never find it the Malaysian government owes them nothing.

American readers will recognize this arrangement as similar to the model trial lawyers use. They charge nothing of their clients up front and only get paid if they win the case. Of course, their share of the winnings is substantial, typically forty percent, but the lawyers are taking all the risks, paying all the costs and gambling on victory which does not always come.

It is clear why Malaysia would enter into such an agreement. They cannot afford to devote any more money to the search but need to show the families of the victims that they are doing something to find the plane. If Ocean Infinity succeeds the Malaysian government will have to pay out substantially but it would be worth it for the public relations alone.

It is not as clear why Ocean Infinity would enter into such a deal. Searching the ocean floor is a risky, incredibly expensive business. You can check their website to see the equipment and technology they are using. It is true that if they find the plane they will receive a massive paycheck for their efforts, but if they fail they will have to eat the costs. I doubt the company could survive such a setback so they will probably fold up. I know the company’s backers have deep pockets but the Indian Ocean could prove to be even deeper.

I sincerely hope Ocean Infinity finds the plane. Everyone would win: the Malaysian government, the victims’ families, the company. If they don’t find it we are no worse off than we are now.

So go to work, Ocean Infinity! Find that plane and solve the mystery! I only wish they would have done it sooner.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.