On Oct. 13, 1913, Albert Jewell was flying a Moisant-Blériot monoplane from Long Island to Staten Island, intending to compete in an aerial derby. He disappeared and was never heard from again; no trace of Jewell or his airplane were ever recovered.
On May 19, 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 reward to the first aviator to fly non-stop between New York City and Paris. François Coli and Charles Nungesser tried to do this in May 1927, leaving from Paris in a Levasseur PL.8 biplane called L’Oiseau Blanc, or The White Bird. The plane disappeared and was never found, leaving the task to Charles Lindbergh two weeks later.
There are countless other tales of disappearing aircraft and pilots between that and the one you know about, when Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan attempted to fly around the world in a Lockheed Electra 10E in 1937 and disappeared somewhere near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. And there are countless more tales after that, not to mention the disappearance of the UC-64 Norseman over the English Channel that carried band leader Glenn Miller. No trace of that flight was ever found.
Before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the last plane reported missing was in November 2008, when a small Beechcraft King Air plane disappeared over Guyana. They lost 3 crew members who were never heard from again.
We still lose airplanes. We’ve been losing airplanes for 100 years, and we’re still losing them. Losing an airplane is still within the realm of possibility. In my own car, I can have a computer talk to me to tell me how to drive to Pittsburgh, but we can still lose an airplane. From this latest event, I draw two reflections.
This world we live on is big. I have posted these numbers recently: The total surface area of the Earth is 196.9 million square miles. The total surface area of the United States is 3.794 million square miles, including all land and territorial waters. This means the United States comprises 1.9 percent of the Earth. It’s a big planet, but we can only live on a quarter of it. And, sometimes, when we try to traverse it by air, it eats you up and spits you out anyways. Intelligent design my forehead.
Second, we sure do think we’re hot goosepoop these days, with the Internet and GPS and satellites and the Google Glass and whatnot. But get humble, people. Get real, real humble.
Because we still lose airplanes.