How Can a Plane Go Missing? Civil Air Patrol Officials Weigh In


By Brittany Bivins

The search continues for a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that went missing 4 days ago with 239 people on board. But with modern technology--how can something so big go off the grid?

The Civil Air Patrol tracks down hundreds of United States domestic flights every year. Although officials there can't comment specifically on the Malaysia Airlines flight, they have extensive experience with searches. Its national headquarters are at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, and officials there gave us a look at what they do to find missing planes.

If your plane goes missing over U.S. soil, some of its 31,000 volunteers all across the country get the call and go through a checklist of questions.

"Did the person actually file fight plans, did they stay on course, those kinds of things--we're looking to see if they were following their plan," said John Desmarais, Director of Operations of the Civil Air Patrol.

Each plane is assigned a number and can be detected on radar, but Operations Director John Desmarais says signals can get weaker over water.

"This is kind of odd that this is happening, but that area of the world is not as forward as the United States, I should say, as far as a lot of the aviation. We are the world's leader in aviation, so there's a lot of these kinds of things that are playing out down there that they just don't have a lot of coverage for," he said.

If search crews can't pinpoint a plane's location with technology, they'll take to the air.

"Looking to see how far that airplane could have gone, and that makes your search area that much bigger, so in an area like this international search, you look at how far that airplane could go and how much fuel it had on board. that gives you your search area, which obviously is a huge area for something like that, you're talking about thousands of square miles."

International search crews say they are now searching a 27,000 square mile area for the plane.

The Civil Air Patrol helps find about 150 missing flights annually, mostly small planes. Officials say they help save about 80 lives with search and rescue operations every year.


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