KUALA LUMPUR: If you weren’t already nervous about flying, that may have changed in 2014, a year that stirred our deepest fears about modern jet travel despite shaping up as one of the safest in aviation history.
The tragic dramas surrounding Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia played out before unprecedented global television and Internet audiences, confronting the traveling public with the startling truth that planes can be shot down or simply disappear.
The events triggered the first major worldwide reviews of aviation precautions in years, and gave aerophobes a new reason to tense up on take-off.
“I always disliked flying but now it’s a real ordeal,” said Marie Lefebvre, a Bangkok-based Canadian businesswoman who has curtailed her frequent business travel. She now occasionally takes sedatives before take-off.
“It’s that feeling of helplessness. Some of the things this year were terrifying.”
Exhibit A was MH370, which took its place alongside Amelia Earhart’s vanishing as one of aviation’s great mysteries, a buzzword for the terror of vanishing without a trace.
The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard after its communications systems were apparently deliberately shut off. No trace of it has been found.
It remains unknown whether an onboard emergency, hijack, rogue pilots, fire among lithium batteries in its hold, or other less-plausible theories were responsible.
Four months later, MH17 was blown out of the sky over Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard and stoking superpower rivalries when the West accused Russia-backed rebels of downing it with a missile.
The following week, the crashes of a TransAsia Airways flight amid rough weather in the Taiwan Strait and Air Algerie Flight 5017 in Mali for reasons still unknown killed a combined 164 people, giving the impression planes were literally falling from the skies.
Capping off the disastrous year, an AirAsia jet carrying 162 people apparently crashed on Sunday en route from Surabaya in Indonesia’s east Java to Singapore.
The flight lost contact during stormy weather and Indonesian authorities have since spotted debris believed to be from the plane, as well as what they believe to be the bodies of passengers.