The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 goes on, and on, but, of
course, it is not the only aircraft to have vanished without trace. Perhaps the
most famous was the Lockheed Electra being flown by Amelia Earhart (pictured) in her
attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world in 1937. A voice
message from Earhart and her navigator near
Howland Island in the mid-Pacific was the last thing ever heard from the flight.
Much bigger aircraft have also disappeared. In 2003, a Boeing 727, being
leased by TAAG Angola Airlines, took off from Luanda with its tracking transponder
switched off. The aircraft had been idle for 14 months and had racked up
millions of dollars in airport fees. No trace of it or the one person known to
be on board has ever been found.
In 1962, a Flying Tiger Line Lockheed Super Constellation chartered by
the US military disappeared over the western Pacific. It had departed from
Travis Air Force Base, California, carrying 93 American soldiers to fight
the Viet Cong, 3 South Vietnamese military personnel and 11 crew. The pilot’s
last message gave the aircraft’s position as 280 miles west of Guam.
A tanker in the area reported seeing what looked like an aircraft exploding,
but one of the biggest air and sea searches in the history of the Pacific found
nothing. Another Super Constellation from Travis Air Base carrying secret
military cargo crashed the same day in the Aleutian Islands, leading to strong
suspicions that both were sabotaged.
This week Rwanda has been marking the 20th anniversary of the
genocide of 1994, in which 800,000 people were murdered in just 100 days – the fastest
mass murder in history.
While the Nazis favoured industrial methods of extermination, this one
was carried out with low-tech weapons, notably the machete, though some victims
were allowed to be shot instead, if they paid. The murderers were Hutu
supremacists; their victims Tutsis and sometimes moderate Hutus.
A United Nations international tribunal based in Tanzania has tried more
than 70 people in connection with the events of 1994. So far, 29 have
been convicted. Another 11 trials are in progress, and 14 people are in
detention awaiting trial, while 13 suspects are still at large.
Although last month, a French court sent Rwanda’s former spy chief to
gaol for 25 years for his part in the genocide, the Rwandan government still
accuses France of complicity in the killings, and France’s Justice Minister
cancelled her plans to attend the commemorations in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.
Mali is the latest West African country to go on
alert against the Ebola virus, after three cases were reported close to the
border with Guinea where 86 people have died. Another six people have died in
Liberia, while Sierra Leone has also reported cases.
Senegal has now closed
its border with Guinea, and controls are being imposed on people entering Mali’s
capital, Bamako. The virus first
appeared in Guinea's
remote south-eastern region of Nzerekore, where most of the deaths have happened,
but it was not confirmed as Ebola for six weeks, and it has now reached the capital,
This is the first known
outbreak of the disease in Guinea. Most recent cases have appeared in Uganda and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a sign of the alarm it is
causing is that Saudi Arabia has suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims from
Guinea and Liberia.
The virus is spread easily and kills
25-90% of those it infects. Just as with AIDS when it first appeared, there is
no vaccine and no cure. The deadliest outbreak so far came in Congo (then Zaire) in 1976
(pictured), when 280 people died - about 88% of those infected.
‘Nobody on this planet is going
to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.’ So said Rajendra Pachauri, chair
of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the panel’s
latest report warns of ‘severe,
pervasive and irreversible’ effects.
The dangers it anticipates
include greater flooding in some areas, along with water shortages in others.
It foresees declining crop yields just as the world’s population races up to 9
billion. The panel says the amount of evidence on the effects of global warming
has doubled since its last report in 2007.
There are plenty of people who
still deny that climate change represents a threat at all, but this latest IPCC
report has been criticised by others for being too optimistic. Apparently a
view has been taken that if the panel paints too gloomy a picture, politicians
will just give up trying to do anything.
The report is based on more than
12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, and is said to be the most
comprehensive assessment ever of the threat to the world from global warming.
*See my book Flood: Nature and Culture for more on how global warming may increase the risk of flooding.
Perhaps the most baffling mystery
in commercial aviation history – the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 – continues to defy solution, and
the agony of those with friends and loved ones aboard goes on.
Search aircraft from five
countries have been scouring the ocean for a sign of the Boeing 777 that left
Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew. The
last contact with it came less than an hour after take-off.
Much attention is now focused on
the seas 1,400 miles off Perth, where there have been a number of reports of
floating debris. Australia’s prime minister says there is now ‘hope’, but no
more than that, that we may be on the verge of finding out what happened to the
The Malaysian authorities believe
MH370 was taken deliberately off course, for reasons unknown, and there is now
speculation that the flight crew may have passed out through lack of oxygen.
Author of 'Flood: Nature and Culture','Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters','London's Disasters','The Disastrous History of London' ('Capital Disasters' in hardback), 'A Disastrous History of Britain', 'A Disastrous History of the World', 'Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues and Other Catastrophes', and 'Shutdown. Anatomy of a Shipyard Closure.' Producer/director of more
than 40 tv documentaries. Former radio producer. Freelance writer for publications such as the Guardian, Independent, Daily Express, Observer, New Statatesman. Freelance communications consultant and adviser. http://www.disasterhistorian.com/