Crushing but merciful blow
Hope can be a cruel thing. For two weeks, it has toyed with the families of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, as the mystery surrounding the missing passenger jet twisted and turned, refusing to discount the possibility that the 239 people aboard were safe and well somewhere in the world.
Yesterday, that flicker of hope was finally extinguished with the announcement that the plane's last confirmed whereabouts was thousands of kilometres from land and it had almost certainly crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
It was a crushing blow, but also a merciful one. The devastating scenes of passengers' families reacting to the news that their loved ones would not be coming home alive, while heart-wrenching, signified the bitter end to what must have been a tortuous lack of certainty.
As an international search effort hones in on specific sightings of debris near where flight MH370 is believed to have crashed, the minds of the families - and the rest of the world - turn to the question that seems destined to become one of the most perplexing in aviation history: what went wrong?
Why did the Beijing-bound flight veer - intentionally, it seems - so drastically off course, and without a word to the outside world, fly to one of the most remote places on the planet and crash into the sea? The answers to these questions are locked in the black box onboard the plane that contains its flight data, and the chances of locating that, at least at this stage, appear extremely remote. The mystery might never be fully unravelled.
If it is not, a large portion of the responsibility for that failure will rest with the Malaysian authorities that managed the response to flight MH370's disappearance. While this incident is without precedent, it has been handled woefully. It has been characterised by a slow, confused search for information, poor, confusing communication delivered by too many different spokespeople, and the unmistakably sense that Malaysian authorities have been less than completely transparent with the public.
As the weeks become months, the response to the crisis will be examined in much more detail, and lessons will certainly be learned. However, they will come as cold comfort to the people who lost their loved ones in the Indian Ocean, and might never know why.
ONE MORE THING
It's great to see that the number of passengers going through Palmerston North Airport is on the rise. A lot of work has been done to get more flights to and from the city, the airport is looking excellent, and the loathed departure levy is a thing of the past. Hopefully the positive trend continues.