On March 8, 227 passengers and 12 crew members of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, bound for Beijing on its six-hour flight.
But none of the 239 aboard the flight arrived on schedule. An hour into the flight, contact was lost and the aircraft disappeared. And 25 days later, the whereabouts of the 239 are still unknown.
Malaysian government, authorities and airlines have been defined by their disorganization and detachment in handling the aftermath. Reports have been contradicting and updates have been publicized at a snail’s-pace, resulting in a crisis-management situation gone terribly wrong to say the least.
The needle-in-the-haystack analogy doesn’t grasp the magnitude of missing Flight 370. The newest search area in the Southern Indian Ocean measures at 123,000 square miles, the size of New Mexico.
Each day, reporters have raced in their updates on shifting search-zones and object-sightings proved futile. What can be confirmed about Flight 370 is that absolutely nothing can be confirmed.
And theories are as plentiful as answers are lacking.
Some sense of confidentiality is essential for diffusing misleading information and dealing with chaos in a responsible manner. However, the muzzle on any news and lack of empathy has exposed deep fault lines in the system.
For example, Malaysian Airlines sent out a text message to the family members before briefing those few on the phone and in person in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived,” it read. “We must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”
The text-reveal was just an added reminder of what the families already face: absence of human touch.
“On one hand, critics argue, texts sacrifice humanity on behalf of practicality,” said Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post. “On the other, supporters parry, this is 2014: 22 percent of young Americans end relationships by text. Wouldn’t you rather get bad news electronically? Do you want a stranger to witness your grief?”
Sending a robotic messenger is consistent with the impersonal actions taken in communicating with the public.
Families have been photographed wailing, protesting and begging for answers, with little cooperation given to their grieving.
The Malaysian government and Airlines need to organize and delegate their next steps, be unified in their broadcasts, verify incoming information and most importantly, remember they are dealing with people with faces and stories and families who haven’t lost hope.
Accuracy and sensitivity should be the compass of the Malaysian organizations navigating through the tragedy. If no answers can be given, we pray God’s peace to families of the missing 239.