BY the time you read this, Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 may have been found.
But it seems unlikely. Tomorrow will mark two weeks since the apparently doomed jet took off from Kuala Lumpur and vanished, and as time marches on the mystery has become more baffling, wide-reaching and agonising for the relatives of those missing.
I must admit I have been gripped by every twist and turn in the drama and, like anyone else who has been following it, I hope there will be answers soon.
At first, events seemed to echo the crash of Air France 447 off the coast of Brazil in the summer of 2009, when an Airbus 330 carrying 228 passengers and crew en route to Paris suddenly disappeared from radar. It took five days before the first debris was located in the Atlantic and another two years before a deep-sea search team finally recovered the black box data recorder almost 13,000ft below the ocean's surface. It revealed the catastrophe was the result of the autopilot cutting out, compounded by pilot error. It was tragically avoidable.
Within hours, terrorism quickly took over as the most plausible explanation as it emerged at least two passengers were travelling on passports stolen in Thailand. For Scots, the memory of the Lockerbie bombing was surely conjured up amid the terrifying prospect that the Boeing 777 might have been blown up in mid-air.
Yet no trace of wreckage could be found below the aircraft's last known position over the South China Sea, while the scale of black market trade in fake passports in the region - some 10,000 passports are reported stolen in Thailand alone each year - put the detail into context.
The two passengers, both Iranians, appeared bound for Europe in a bid to claim asylum, a lonely mission mirrored by thousands around the globe each year. Then there were the more bizarre theories: a new Bermuda Triangle perhaps, or a sinister "cloaking" device preventing the plane's detection.
There were 20 Freescale Semiconductor employees on board, executives from a Texas weapons firm specialising in exactly that type of technology. At the weekend, however, the mystery took an abrupt turn west as it emerged that communications systems had been intentionally shutdown and the aircraft flown off-course towards the Indian Ocean in a suspected hijacking. If it was a planned terrorist attack, however, it appears to have failed. Perhaps, like the passengers of United 93 on 9/11, they averted an attack by bringing the plane down. But what could have been the target?
A more prosaic theory put forward by a former pilot this week is that a tyre fire caused the cockpit to fill with smoke minutes after the co-pilot wished ground control goodnight.
Although they cut the electrics and turned back in an attempt to land in Malaysia, the pilots were overcome by fumes and died, leaving the plane to fly on aimlessly for hours on autopilot before eventually running out of fuel crashing into the sea.
Any explanation is better than none, it seems, in what might be the greatest aviation mystery of the 21st century.
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