“There’s a plane missing in the Indian Ocean,” says the guy in front of me in class. He then pulls up a website with all the data, information and stats, a website exclusively devoted to the search for Flight MH370. It was 12 days ago and I had my mind on so many other things. I have watched countless documentaries on the history channel about plane crashes and objects lost mysteriously at sea. I was late for class, overwhelmed with homework and not particularly keen on hearing yet another “unsolved mystery.” I blew off his obvious enthusiasm and moved on with my day.
A week later, I had become intrigued. Apparently, this was no ordinary plane crash story. Vague clues and details were coming in by the hour. The transponder had been deliberately turned off. The plane had taken a radical turn to the west. It had flown well above it’s ceiling, then dropped to only a few thousand feet when flying over land. It had disappeared off of radar with hours of fuel onboard…yet still had not appeared on any other radar. The last satellite “ping” placed it either in the middle of Asia’s most formidable desert or in the southern Indian ocean, far away from Antarctica and Australia alike. Finally, and most perplexingly, not a single one of the over 200 people on board had made any attempt to text or call loved ones while the plane remained in flight. How on earth could all these details fit together given the motives of the human heart? Why change course? Why no ground contact? Why fly a plane into the middle of nowhere?
It was the personal motives that intrigued me. The only thing that all authorities seemed to agree on was that someone who knew what they were doing (the pilot? the co-pilot? a member of the crew or hijacker?) had deliberately turned off the transponder, tuned out of the radio communications and drastically diverted the plane’s course. Why? No one seemed to know, yet no one seemed reluctant to guess. CNN set up 24 hour coverage which was quickly criticized. The governments of the over-25 countries involved held a string of press conferences, sometimes verifying and sometimes contradicting the official facts. Family members cried hysterically for definitive answers in the midst of so much blind speculation. The mystery of MH370 had gone from a strange news piece scrolling at the bottom of the screen to a full-fledged mystery. What pushed it beyond the boundaries of normal news was when it went from being a missing plane to being about missing people.
A missing plane is problematic. Missing people are a mystery.
Mystery involves the seen and unseen. It involves motives, clues and signs that point to things greater than themselves. A plane that crashes in the sea might make the evening news. A plane that vanishes can cause much speculation. But a human being who deliberately steers a plane off its course for unknown motives and reasons is a mystery proper. It is the personal aspect of the problem that allows it to transcend the worries of aviation experts and close family members, touching the hearts of all humans who hear about MH370’s plight. Where mere mechanics are at stake, people can understand the tragedy but not the complexity of the situation. However, when human motives are the essential factor, the story becomes much more complex than a jet engine and far more universal.
Mystery must be personal, or else it is merely problematic. That, at least, is an amateur theologian’s takeaway from the story of MH370.