MH370: Fear of the unknown

By Fouad Alaa


The events of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has left everyone with only one question… why?

We are hardwired to find answers and reasons to any question that comes to mind. Knowing is always better than not knowing, and so we sometimes take extraordinary measures to find answers.

However, when we are faced with a phenomenon that has no explanation and almost no clues from where to search for answers, we experience one specific emotion: the fear of the unknown.

Although the events provoked different reactions in everyone, eventually the chain of thought leads to one in particular: what if something like that happened to me? Or worse, to someone I cared about?

The fear of the unknown is something that defines us and helps insure our survival. No one knows what the future might hold and all we can do is prepare and take precautions. However, realising that something of that magnitude can actually happen nowadays can turn the fear of the unknown to the paranoia of the unknown.

I have been living in Malaysia for about 4 years, in these 4 years I have travelled frequently from east to west Malaysia on both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. To imagine that one of those times I might have been on the flight that would just vanish without a trace; I’d rather cross the sea using a fishing vessel rather than a plane.

MH370 really hit home for Malaysians here.

People take MAS flights every day in Malaysia, domestic or international, on a regular basis throughout the year. It is almost a guaranteed fact that 80% of people in Malaysia have a flight already booked throughout 2014 on MAS.

It wouldn’t be hard to find a link between myself and someone on that plane, which is true, since it is so common. So after connecting something so familiar and common to an extremely rare and mysterious scenario, no one can be blamed if they decided to cancel any travel plans that can’t be done on land.

The caveman who heard a sound in the bushes, picked up his spear and rushed to check it out lived longer than the one who ignored it and thought it was just the wind. However, living in too much fear or taking too many precautions could have adverse effects on other aspects of our lives.

The best way to deal with the surge of fear caused by the events of MH370 is to take it as a reminder that we shouldn’t take anything for granted and come out with a positive thought rather than let that fear turn into paranoia.

Questioning Mortality

We don’t choose when to be born and we don’t choose when to die. Another mental slap from the events of MH370 is that it makes us question our mortality. What kind of real control do we possess over our own lives?

Whenever you hear an argument between 2 people; one who is pro flying and the other with a fear of flight, the usual scenario that plays out sees the one who is pro-flying present the casual statistics about car crashes and how its more common to have a car accident (the same odds as getting a paper cut) than flight crashes.

If this conversation took place between anyone who knows about MH370, it would never be as simple or classic, at least not to Malaysians. No one here has ever experienced a flight being hijacked, so your argument is invalid.

If you drive down a highway and see a car pile-up on the opposite lane, the first thought that pops in your head is: “Oh my God, all those poor people.”

There will always be a group of people who question their own mortality on a daily basis, but MH370 turned distinctly different and unique groups of people into a single collective.

So why would the thought “What if the same thing happened to me?” come to mind after the MH370 incident rather than a highway car pileup?

The answer is yet again, knowledge.

A car pileup on a highway has no extraordinary cause, only a number of fairly predictable ones that you can find out about later in the news.

The disappearance of a flight with little to no evidence leaves a whole world of explanations and reasons that would make it impossible to even speculate anything with confidence. Not knowing what would happen would make the worst and rarest of explanations possible even for me.

Questioning security

I was in a cab a few days before in Kuala Lumpur when the taxi driver asked me what I thought about MH370. After a simple discussion that led to conspiracy theory speculations he ended it with the phrase, “At this point I won’t be surprised if it’s an alien abduction.”

However illogical that might have sounded and no matter how many times people use that phrase as a joke, it has always been kind of restricted to outlandish military hidden facilities or X-Files topics. I never would have thought it would be a joke about a national aircraft carrier vanishing.

Until Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that the plane had been deliberately diverted on March 15, MH370 had become one of the most mysterious flight disappearances in the history of commercial aviation besides Amelia Earhart’s last flight.

Then MH370 no longer became a mystery to solve but rather stolen property.

The question then became, why would anyone hijack Mh370? Whoever would take the time, effort and intelligence to hijack a plane, change its course and land somewhere without any trace, is NOT an amateur.

A beacon of hope

In the current situation, everything is exactly the same as it was a week ago except for two key differences that provide a sliver of hope.

First, the plane did not crash but instead was hijacked. Any movie or documentary buff would know that the situation is hard but not seemingly complicated; no one would hijack a plane without a reason. Once that reason is revealed and resolved there is still hope for the return of the MH370 passengers, hopefully safe and sound.

Second, the knowledge of the status of the plane in itself does provide more comfort than just being lost somewhere in the 3rd largest ocean on earth. It may not be satisfying for everyone because we are all looking for the answer to the puzzle, but it may provide a little comfort for the family and friends of the MH370 passengers.

I am in no position to put myself in their shoes since I can only imagine what they are going through, but I do know that if it was my dad on that plane, I would feel more hope if the plane was in any state other than being crashed somewhere.

So what now?

There is no right or wrong way to deal with the thoughts this incident has brought upon us. Some people might need time to heal from the effects of those thoughts, some people might be indifferent, and some might arrive on the other side with a different view of the world we live in.

We all are praying for strength for the families and friends of the passengers probably because we all know the truth that has been lingering in our minds but remain unspoken and unheard. We can sympathise, learn, or ignore what has been happening but that will not change the fact that it happened. But yet we still hope, because it is truly all we can do. It doesn’t have to be hope for survivors or hope for things to get better, but at least it has to be hope in the universal belief that we all have, that fades from time to time, that things are going to be better and that the night is darkest just before the dawn.

After incidences like the MH370, we think about all the unknowns and the fears, question our own mortality, control and security, but the one thing we can’t afford to lose is our hope.

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3 Responses

  1. Paladin says:

    Good entry….I wonder where this plane is at….

  2. James L'Etoile says:

    A very strange event, one with an outcome that may never satisfy our questions.

  3. Tammy Soong says:

    It’s funny how the human mind works. We worry more about the unlikely and bizarre than the usual and probable. We also seem to FEEL worse for people who die by strange circumstances. As if their deaths are somehow more tragic or painful for their loved ones than someone who died of cancer or was killed in a pile up on the same day. We’re mysterious, odd creatures.

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