How to find/steal a passenger plane over the ocean


Last words from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: “All right, good night.

No distress call.

No underwater pings from black boxes.

With two-thirds of the surface of the planet made up of water, it’s not the first time a plane has seemed to vanish without a trace.

Fifty-two years ago this month, Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 disappeared 270 miles west of Guam with 93 U.S. troops on board. But even that ill-fated journey “left the vivid air signed with their honor” — a vapor trail was spotted by an Italian crew on a super tanker in the Pacific and a bright blip and the slow fall of two objects were seen on the ship’s radar.

With the Malaysia airliner, there isn’t even any evidence of mid-air explosion, according to what is described as an extensive review of images taken by U.S. spy satellites.

As the United States sends a destroyer, the USS Kidd, to the Malacca Strait to search for any signs of a crash, what essential, old-fashioned equipment will the sailors use? Binoculars.

“Even with all the technology in the world, search and rescue operations come down to men and women scanning the sea with binoculars,” Jordan Golson writes in Wired in an examination of what measures U.S. personnel typically take when a call comes in.

If a plane breaks up at high altitude, notes Katelyn Shearer of the Coast Guard, its remains will scatter like tiny needles in roiling haystacks of ocean.

One thing’s for sure: There will never be another Flight 370, Joanne Chiu writes in the WSJ’s SouthEastAsiaRealTime blog. It’s a long-standing practice in the airline industry to retire flight numbers after disasters.

Could the Boeing 777 have been stolen? Jeff Wise asks in the Future Tense blog. A plot to divert the airliner for nefarious purposes, might work like this: Kill the pilot, lock the cockpit door, turn off the transponder over an area out of radar range, fly as low as possible, land and throw camouflage over the plane, a pilot tells Wise.