Agatha Christie and the missing airplane

Agatha ChristieJust because I haven’t blogged about the missing airplane doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it.  As it is, with no data, I have nothing to say, except….

Okay, this is a pretty random observation, but as the story unfolded and it appeared that the plane might have been spirited away, I kept thinking to myself, “This sounds like something I’ve read before.”  I finally figured out last night why it was familiar.

Back in 1954 (the same year in which she sat for the portrait, above), Agatha Christie first published Destination Unknown.  The premise was that important scientists from all over the world had been vanishing.  When the wife of one of those vanished scientists died in an accident, a young woman who resembled that dead wife was substituted in her place, in the hope that she would help British and American law enforcement solve the mystery.  I’m not giving too much away when I say that the first phase in a group’s “vanishing” was a faked airplane crash.

In the case of the book, those in the faked crash lived.  Here, if the plane was indeed hijacked by evil forces, I suspect that almost three hundred people were summarily executed in cold blood, which is somehow a thought even more appalling than thinking about them dying in an actual plane crash.

Again, though, I’m avoiding any substantive writing about the missing plane because there seems so little to say (although it does strike me as strange that, in a world monitored constantly by satellites, something can vanish so completely).  Today’s evidence could just as easily point to alien abduction as to terrorist hijacking or mechanical failures and abnormalities.  If I had to bet, though, I’d say hijacking and, if I were forced to bet more, I’d say Islamist-related hijacking, with some terrible denouement still to unfold.

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  • jj

    The world, which often seems too much with us, and entirely too small to most Americans, nevertheless remains a pretty large place, on the face of which there is still a fair amount of unmonitored space.  Or space that is, it may be correct to say, monitored rather less closely than those who’d like you to think they’re in charge of everything would have you believe.  I worked with, admittedly at something of a distance but we all knew each other, a bunch of guys who routinely traveled inside the cracks and behind the walls of the world, poking their noses everywhere.  Often enough with especial attention to places they were not allowed to go.  The world, it turns out, is filled with experts at beating the various systems and getting you where you want to go.  I once lunched with a correspondent who was about to set off to a place there was just no chance he could get to, and he introduced me to a friend of his, who would – and did – get him there.  The friend was a much younger-than-expected guy who answered to a variety of names, great fun and a splendid raconteur.  I thought vaguely Middle Eastern, and he told me something worth remembering.  He said (I paraphrase): “surveillance and government control works very well, on those who believe it does.  On those who don’t believe it, or don’t care, there are always a thousand ways around it.”  He also said, interestingly enough (at least I thought it was interesting): “if you have to disappear for a short time, don’t.  Disappearing altogether can draw attention, so don’t do it unless you’re really gone forever.  If it’s only for a little while don’t disappear: be someone else.”  This of course presupposes that you are a denizen of that world where passports and papers are easy to come by.  I was not an inhabitant of that world.  Network correspondents weren’t either, as a rule – but they all knew and used guys who were.
    Anyway, it isn’t as hard as us cosseted Americans think it is to disappear, and maybe even take a 777-200 with you.  The odds are that flight 370 went down somewhere, but there’s some weirdness attached to that.  Why cell phones kept ringing – though were not answered – why the plane kept addressing the satellites (pinging) after it was ‘gone,’ and why multiple transponders apparently switched off are all good questions.  (When a plane ‘pings’ a satellite, it’s not sending data: it’s simply saying hello.  Keeping the line open, in case there is data to send, but it isn’t saying where it is, what its condition is, or anything else.)
    If it was a terrorist deal, the odds are that these guys stayed in flying school long enough to learn to land the thing, because otherwise what would be the point?  The world isn’t terrorized, it’s baffled and wondering what the hell happened.  From the point of view of a terrorist, that’s a failure.  For terrorists to terrorize we all have to know what happened.  We have to know it fairly quickly, too – some bunch of rag-head meteor-worshipers can’t jump up now at this late date and take ‘credit’ for it without looking like dopes and opportunists whom no one will believe.  (And I notice none of them have tried to take ‘credit.’  Even they’ve figured out they’d look stupid at this point.)
    If the plane was landed somewhere, and got down in one piece, then the passengers are doubtless alive and well, because again: what would be the point of killing them?  If you take 240 hostages you don’t kill them, you use them.  They’re negotiating chips.  You call up Jug-ears and say: “immediately release Abdul and Selim from Guantanamo or we kill one hostage every hour for the next ten days” or something.  There’s zero to be gained by killing them.  If the plane got down safely the passengers are alive.
    My father, who knew something about the harsh realities of this kind of stuff – and for whom incidentally I have passports, all with the same picture, from five different countries, all issued within 36 months of each other – recognized that the world was changing when Carter was in the white house and the embassy in Teheran was overrun.  His first reaction was the reaction of his rather hard-nosed generation: it’s sad but write them off.  You don’t hold up and skew the destinies of 270 million people for the sake of 44 people.  They’re gone.  They’ve become soldiers, and they’re KIA.  You accept the loss, move on, and exact revenge.  But we didn’t do that.  We twisted in the wind for over a year, looking like fools, being pissed on by a bunch of desert sand fleas, and let them get away with it.  And they learned that my father’s nation, which was a well-armored tank, has become a bunch of maiden aunts, nannies, and pantywaists – at least when democrats are in charge –  and can be manipulated.  So if it was terrorists the passengers are alive and stashed for later use.
    Where the plane is, who knows?  The assets that could have found out, Blackbirds and U-2s, have been retired now, so we’ll have to find out the hard way, or get lucky.  Thirty years ago we could have fired a Blackbird in at 75,000 feet with a camera that could have picked out the title of the book the guy on the park bench in Alor Setar was reading, but we no longer have that capability.  It’ll be interesting.

    • shirleyelizabeth

      jj, you’ve made me want to see this played out in a movie …but something along the lines of The Italian Job, where it’s all in good fun just working through the scenario and 300 people don’t end up with terrible deaths.

      • jj

        The original Italian Job, with Michael Caine and Noel Coward – not that Godawful ‘remake!’

  • Earl

    Great stuff, jj – that was fascinating.
    BW: I’ve always thought of you as remarkable…but today you clinched it.  You’re refusing to spend a lot of time opining on the disappearance because there isn’t enough data to make sense of.  Somehow that doesn’t stop the pundits, politicians, and other assorted jackasses all over the place!!  Good job.

  • barbtheevilgenius

    I don’t remember reading Destination Unknown, which is interesting because I thought I’d read all Christie’s stuff. I thought at first you were going to bring up the time where she successfully disappeared for a week or so herself. :-)
    I agree with you that it’s better to think of them dying in an actual plane crash. I’d rather there was a quick explosion than that innocent people were involved in some sort of hijacking or long-reaching terrorist plot. I especially grieve for the youngest ones on the plane.

  • Caped Crusader

    Dame Agatha and Bookworm — good try; close, but no tamale! Here is the straight scoop. The plane is on a secret mission and landed at our nearby hidden secret base at Shangri-La, where FDR launched the Doolittle raid on Japan. FDR didn’t really die but was spirited to Shangri-La since he was too ill to function as President. People do not age there and he has been undergoing age reversal therapy since his arrival. He will soon be 35, young, robust, and able to walk; and striking, as always.  FDR will declare he was a classic liberal, but his worst fear has been realized; that the Democrat party has been infiltrated by insane progressive mutants, the original pods having been discovered by him in the White House basement. He destroyed all he could find, but being afraid a few survived and would multiply, he arranged to fake his death and have Truman take over since he knew the war had been won. Eleanor will appear as a beautiful charismatic young woman instantly making everyone have total amnesia about Hillary Clinton. He will make his entrance unexpectedly in Las Vegas New Years Eve 2014 with Elvis, who been with him all this time since he faked his own death, singing, “Here He is Mr. America, Our Ideal”. FDR will have “Hairy” Reed drawn and quartered, and burned at the stake. Joy and celebration will break out spontaneously all over the republic. FDR will be elected, carrying every state. He will declare a jubilee, solving all the debt problems . A sane, conservative and wiser President will rule for another 4 terms and America will enjoy prosperity again.
    And then again, all the stories make turn out as false and it just crashed into the Indian Ocean.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Does fact make for good fiction or good fiction make for fact? I wish I could remember the name of the techno-thriller that I read some time ago, but the plot went something like this: master terrorist wants to strike death blow against the U.S. He hijacks a 747, hides it away, and loads it with a bioweapon. He then flies toward the Los Angeles flying in the shadow of a regularly scheduled 747 so that it will appear like a single-plane radar signature. The plane is then supposed to crash, releasing the weaponized microorganisms. Just sayin’, since we are speculating. 
    Please stay alert for my next posting full of sweetness and light. 

  • David Foster

    There’s a novel called “Mayday” which had the subtitle “Nobody wants this plane to land.”
    The plane was accidentally hit by an illegal missile test, and everyone but 2 people suffered from decompression and got irreversible brain damage. The insurance company decided it would be much cheaper to have the plane go down than to pay for the support of all the passengers for the rest of their lives, and they were joined in this opinion by the naval officer who had conducted the missile test.
    One of the two non-brain-damaged passengers is a private pilot with no large-jet experience….he seeks advice over the radio, and guess who is giving it…

  • Charles Martel

    In the post-graduate history course I teach at Bowdoin College, I have often cited Caped Crusader’s magisterial tome, “Where Occam Nicked Himself,” as the basis for my belief that FDR did not die and that the 12th Imam is now living in a tool shed at Hyde Park.
    My students know that Caped Crusader disappeared, Salinger-style, many years ago—not too long, in fact, after FDR’s “death.” So to see Prof. Crusader suddenly and marvelously appear here in Bookworm Room is one of the most astonishing and exhilarating experiences of my life. Now that he has confirmed that FDR is waiting in the wings, tanned, rested, and ready, I can laugh knowingly in Teabaggers’ faces whenever they start up droning their doom and gloom.
    Thank you, Professor, from the bottom of my believing, and now graced, heart.

    • Caped Crusader

      Thank you for the compliment!! It is wonderful to know that Bowdoin College and the state of Maine still have one true and honest faculty member teaching the “Jack Webb” facts to those few still eager to learn. I have a deep love for the rural parts of Maine (are there any others) where I lived briefly long ago. Can’t say much for the twisted people in the rest and urban areas of New England, however. I thoought they all sounded the same until I lived among them, but now  a Mainiac sounds nothing like a Bostonian. People in Maine are the only folks who talk when the suck air in, instead of as they expel air. Even today I can still say that famous Maine expression—Aaaauuppp! (Yep)– as I inhale air. And whose heat is not thrilled upon hearing the Mane Stein Song?
      Far too few realize the significance of the return of the Mahdi. So I am  very glad you are teaching the significance of his return, and how the Shia are preparing for him. I thought he was last reported living in a well north of Tehran just beyond the 12 lane road paved for his return. Glad to receive this update.
      Also, I forgot that Franklin was going to control all botox distribution and Nancy Pelosi would be banned. Franklin will cancel her pension and to stay out of poverty she will spend the remainder of her life playing Pruneface upon the revision of a Dick Tracy serial; Franklin’s favorite!
      For all to enjoy:

  • Mike Devx

    Book, you say:
    If I had to bet, though, I’d say hijacking and, if I were forced to bet more, I’d say Islamist-related hijacking, with some terrible denouement still to unfold.
    Book,  *everyone* knows the plane was hijacked by the evil Jooos and the Koch brothers.  And that somehow it is all Bush’s fault.

  • Charles Martel

    What Mike said. C’mon, folks, it’s so painfully obvious that even if the Jooos and the Koch brothers didn’t actually hijack the plane, they forced whomever did it to do so.

  • Ymarsakar

    Is everyone here crazy or is it just me?

    • Caped Crusader

      We’ve all joined conspiracy kook groups   —  you’re the only sane one left —  we need an intervention!

  • jj

    Only two possibilities.  (A) It’s down and vaporized or beneath the sea; or (B) it’s safely down somewhere on its feet, and someone has 240 hostages to use against us.  If that’s the case we’ll hear about it in a few days.  In fact it’s been a week, all dispositions should have been made and I’d say we already should have heard about it.  So option (B) is now less likely, and the thing probably crashed somewhere.  Given what we can piece together of the plane’s performance in its last hours, it seems at least possible somebody was trying for outcome (B), and somehow blew it.

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