Double whammy on the high skies
The second disaster to strike Malaysian Airlines in four months, as the Boeing 777 passenger jet MH17 blew into pieces mid-air while flying above the strike-ridden Donetsk region of Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, has shocked and numbed the world into a state of emotional coma. The aircraft took down with it all 298 onboard, mostly Dutch, Malaysian, Australian, British, Indonesian nationals, in a tragedy that seems to be either a case of ‘crash terrorism’, or an accident so unfortunate it would go down in history as the event that redefined civil aviation in times of globalised conflicts.
Although initial reports now suggest a Soviet-era Buk missile, ostensibly handled by undertrained pro-Russian rebels operating in eastern Ukraine, downed the aircraft mistaking it for a Ukrainian fighter airplane, what is unpardonable that the incident led to the loss of about 300 innocent lives, who simply happened to be on that ill-fated plane. This, after the mystery of the vanished MH370, only lends more unreliability to an already jeopardised civil airline company as well as casts doubt on the credibility of international aviation authorities who cleared the flight route for the plane despite the ongoing incidences of violence in a protracted civil war as part of Ukraine, particularly Crimea, seceded from the country in a bid to join the Russian federation. Why the aviation authorities failed to take note of the more than strong chance of on-air misfortune striking the plane is difficult to fathom, but it points to a general callousness gripping international aviation that is grappling with escalating fuel prices on one hand and rising environmental costs on the other.
While the tragedy (whether a heinous crime or an unwitting accident) has put the Russian president Vladimir Putin in a sour spot, the fact that it happened within 48 hours of the BRICS summit and announcement of the New Development Bank is another mysterious dimension that mustn’t go unnoticed. Along with the crisis in Gaza, with Israeli army pounding the region with heavy rockets and tolls crossing 300, the MH17 incident underscores once again how arming rebels and jingoists with sophisticated weaponry backfires with unimaginable consequences. The testing of Russian-made Buk missiles, which are under scanner after on-air catastrophe, was discontinued after such a missile had earlier blown off a plane carrying 71 people. But why the 1970s-era radar-guided missile landed in rebel hands and how powerful national governments power up flagging arsenal of militias to extend their spheres of influence are now out in the open. Whether it’s Ukrainian army or pro-Russian rebels that is responsible for this horrendous episode, an international inquiry is the need of the hour. That the MH17 could have taken down with itself the cure for AIDS, with over a hundred researchers and activists dying in the incident, is another long and difficult mourning.