Grace Dent: If this really is terrorism – and the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is not found – then this is a new level of terrifying

To be untraceable goes against everything we know about the march of technology
  • @gracedent

Despite my best efforts, I have still not located the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. One would think I might have by now. I’ve certainly put the hours in. I’ve attended – via Sky News – each morning press conference. And thanks to BBC News 24 and CNN I am somewhat of an expert now on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s home flight simulator; on the desires or disinterests of Uighur terrorists; on mobile phone reception in the Indian Ocean; and on the 24-strong Chinese Arts Peninsular Enterprise trip who ate a banquet of duck soup, then shrimp and pork in brown sauce before vanishing into thin air on a Boeing 777-200ER.

My reaction to the Malaysian story is not, it seems, unusual. The mystery has had a profound, unsettling effect on many friends and colleagues. In 2014, to be untraceable, goes against everything we know about the march of technology. The world became too clever, too nosy, too smart at tracing footprints. It is thought one can’t have anonymity or vanish even if one tries.

Where are the last frantic text messages? Why can’t telephone companies track any of the 229 phones? Why can’t Rolls-Royce use its jet engine data for anything useful? All those satellites we’ve pinged off into space – us arrogant earthlings, littering the  sky with our bleeping oh-so clever debris – why can’t they help us now? And if someone has taken the passengers, why aren’t they communicating?

That’s the script we know with terrorism. The action and then the admission. If this is terrorism, and this plane and its precious cargo of loved ones are never found, then this is a new level of terrifying. The horror of not knowing. I watch rolling news hour by hour, aware I am helping nobody, adding nothing to the dilemma, but instead just self-soothing that something is being done.

And, of course, the joy and splendour of rolling news is that it can make the grimmest, darkest affair into a rollicking pot-boiler. I’ve often joked that my retired father is never happier than at home during a Sky News live televised man-hunt. But then, since the age of Twitter, neither am  I. At one point Raoul Moat was a violent  ex-con who’d shot three people, but within six days of rolling news, the story was certainly more “fun” than a night in watching Silent Witness.

The main characters were gritty and fascinating, the back stories enthralling, and as for the bit with the fishing rods  and Gazza, oh how we laughed. Although now I think back, Moat had shot his girlfriend and Gazza was mentally ill, so it wasn’t terribly funny.

Rolling news has made the scenes from Kuala Lumpur more affable, as we hear the giggles in the news conference over daft questions, the titbits about the co-pilot being cautioned for having “blondes up smoking with him in the cockpit”, and Kay Burley in a crisp white shirt indefatigably searching for the truth.

Without this, we’re left with our own thoughts of what happened, or is still happening, to a bunch of everyday travellers, and that’s not remotely pleasant. And without answers, for me at least, there is still hope. The Hollywood ending, the previously unmapped island with a landing strip, the terrorists who suddenly have a conscience, and passengers like Norli Akmar Hamid and Muhammad Razahan Zamani wandering across the tarmac and saying that this was the most non-auspicious start to their honeymoon. But until then, I’ll carry on with my investigations.

Twitter: @gracedent

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