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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Confusion sparks nonsense

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The search for the missing plane was marked by lack of information. Photo / AP
The search for the missing plane was marked by lack of information. Photo / AP

Curiosity is one of our most wonderful human characteristics. It's got the human race this far, motivated by the desire to know for its own sake.

Sometimes however, our need for answers backfires. Such has been the case with the fiasco that is the search for the fate of MH370, which has compounded an already terrible tragedy for those on the plane and the families who survive them.

The bastard offspring of Gerry Brownlee and Hekia Parata could not have mismanaged the affair more chaotically.

That the agonising uncertainty over the plane's fate was prolonged for two weeks was reprehensible. Most people would have realised the number of aeroplane disappearances that end with survivors being found is very few; almost none if you exclude those in which at least some of the survivors haven't eaten some of the others.

Then we had articles explaining why the investigation had been so bad — the Malaysian bureaucracies are rigidly hierarchical; the conspiring pilots had laid a false trail of clues.

The theories took as many inexplicable turns as Flight MH370 seems to have done. The most outlandish hypotheses were spoken aloud. CNN presenters speculated seriously on whether a mini black hole could have opened up and swallowed the plane. Certainly a black mark on what we must now refer to as the "once credible" CNN's record.

The plane had been effectively abducted, Lost-style, to the sinister US island base of Diego Garcia — where presumably those on board would be forced to take part in breeding experiments with aliens shipped in from Area 51.

An ex-pilot's "startlingly simple theory" — tyre caught fire, plane filled with smoke, everyone choked, plane crashed — also did the rounds of mainstream media and was seized upon by many who should have known better.

People wanted answers even if the more paranoid didn't believe we would get them. "The Americans, Malaysians and Chinese know, but we'll never find out," said the man in the chair ahead of me at the barber. "We're just pawns."

Anything, it seemed, was preferable to acknowledging that one of the greatest disasters in aviation history had occurred and an explanation might never be known.

Australian PM Tony Abbott was afforded yet another opportunity for grandstanding as he went into take-charge mode and appeared to run the search single-handed before running out of puff after a few days.

And even when it was officially all over, it wasn't really. Malaysia simply declared that everyone on board was dead without any physical confirmation in the form of positively identified wreckage, let alone human remains.

The ineptitude was maintained to the unusually bitter end with some relatives, including New Zealander Danica Weeks being informed not by someone trained in the delicate psychology of handling such news, but by the medium dentists use to remind us of our appointment — a text message. Couldn't they have put on extra staff to handle this inevitability?

I blame the internet for much of the fiasco. It has so accustomed us to maintain answers and information that when they're not available we're quicker to accept misinformation.

The end of the search doesn't answer any of the most basic questions about the tragedy. There may never be answers. But it reminds us that life is fragile and can be transformed utterly at any moment by circumstances outside our control, so needs to be treasured for what it is.


Speaking of crap organising, who was running the nuclear security summit in the Hague that was dominated by a world map that didn't show New Zealand — a country six times bigger than the Netherlands?

If we're going to take part in these gabfests, couldn't someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs go on ahead to make sure we're in the graphics? Otherwise we run the risk of people of believing we're an insignificant little country with lousy self-respect.

- Herald on Sunday

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