Dozens of ships and aircraft have joined the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 but after 14 days, experts have now raised the question: what if the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) is never found?
Although many experts think such an idea seems unlikely, especially in the age of modern technology, history has shown that it was not impossible, AP reported today.
"When something like this happens that confounds us, we're offended by it, and we're scared by it," Ric Gillespie, a former aviation accident investigator was quoted as saying.
Gillespie wrote a book about American aviator Amelia Earheart's still-unsolved 1937 disappearance over the Pacific Ocean.
"We had the illusion of control and it's just been shown to us that oh, folks, you know what? A really big airliner can just vanish. And nobody wants to hear that," he added.
Journal of Transportation Security editor-in-chief Andrew Thomas was quoted in the same report as saying that the problem also lies in the fact that airline systems were not as sophisticated as what was widely perceived.
Airports and airplanes all around the world use "antiquated radar tracking technology" – first developed in the 1950s – rather than modern GPS systems.
Although a GPS system might not have solved the case of the missing MH370, it would have at least given investigators a better read on the Boeing 777-200ER's last known location, Thomas said.
"There are lots of reasons why they haven't changed, but the major one is cost. The next-generation technology would cost US$70 billion to US$80 billion (about RM230 billion to RM260 billion) in the US," he was quoted as saying.
MH370's disappearance on March 8, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, would also put pressure on airlines and governments to improve their monitoring systems, including handoff procedures between countries, said the AP report.
Besides that, without any wreckage, it would be hard to pin the responsibility on the airline or the manufacturers or other parties, it said.
"The international aviation legal system does not anticipate the complete disappearance of an aircraft," Brian Havel, a law professor and director of the International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago, said.
"We just don't have the tools for that at present."
Families of those on board MH370 would be the ones to face the "most painful consequences" of a failed search.
"In any kind of death, the most important matter for relatives and loved ones is knowing the context and circumstances," said Kevin Tso, chief executive of New Zealand agency Victim Support, which has been counselling family and friends of the two New Zealand passengers aboard the flight.
“When there's very little information, it's very difficult."
The huge number of speculation and rumours about the plane's whereabouts has not been helpful to the families, he said, adding that they may be getting false hope that their loved ones were still alive.
It has been almost 50 years since a plane carrying more than two dozen people disappeared without a trace: in 1965, an Argentine military plane carrying 69 people disappeared and has never been found.
However, Gillespie and other experts were optimistic that flight MH370 would eventually be found, "even if investigators have to wait until some wreckage washes ashore".
"We all expect we're going to find this plane and the chances are probably pretty good that we'll find something. But you know, I think everyone thought that about Amelia Earhart as well," Phaedra Hise, a pilot and author of "Pilot Error: The Anatomy of a Plane Crash", was quoted as saying.
"We know there's a chance that we may never find out what happened. Which is a little scary, isn't it?" – March 21, 2014.