(Image: Controlled Impact Demonstration by NASA and the FAA, from Wikipedia)
An ongoing world news story, of course, is the fate of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. The search is still ongoing for the plane or wreckage, in order to help determine what happened. These things may take some time. In 2009, the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 was found shortly after the accident, but the black boxes from the plane were not recovered from the ocean floor for two years.
It is thus too early to say what happened, though there has been speculation regarding aircraft malfunction, pilot error, terrorism, or a mix of more than one of them. We do know from the history of large aircraft aviation a couple of things: flying is incredibly safe compared to most other forms of transportation (as measured by distance traveled or time spent), and when large aircraft accidents do occur, human factors (e.g. pilot error) often plays a contributing role. A classic example is the Tenerife disaster in 1977, when one Boeing 747 taking off crashed into another one taxiing, under poor visibility conditions. The causes of the Tenerife disaster are complex and multi-factored, and have been analyzed by organizational theorist, Karl Weick, hopefully to benefit greater learning.
For those that are interested in looking into this area more, a MOOC is starting on April 7, 2014, The Human Factor in Aviation by Dennis Vincenzi, an Assistant Professor at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA. The MOOC is being hosted on the CourseSites platform. The MOOC was planned some time ago, before this Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 incident, thus a coincidence. It is unknown how much of the incident can or will be addressed in the MOOC, but it certainly seems like there might be a great deal of discussion around it.
Our hopes and prayers go out to those affected by Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.