While investigators remain puzzled as to the whereabouts and fate of Malaysian Air flight 370, lost in the discussion is the fact that the Boeing 777 is not the first jumbo jet to go missing. In 2003, a Boeing 727 went missing on a flight from Angola to Burkina Faso. The plane disappeared in the wake of an intelligence warning about al-Qaeda planning a suicide aerial attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi. A worldwide search for the missing plane went nowhere and, despite FBI and CIA investigations, eventually the case faded from the headlines. Of course, that Boeing disappeared with only the pilot on board, rather than with a full complement of passengers.

Speculation on the fate of the Malaysian airliner is pointless, as information continues to trickle in about the last hours of flight 370. Two items remains constant, however. First is how vast swaths of sky remain largely uncovered by commercial aircraft and presumably the radar to track them. (When I first began to cross the Atlantic or Pacific on board U.S. naval vessels, one of the first things I noticed was what I didn’t see: aircraft contrails. While aircraft tend to follow certain circular routes, ships take quite a different routing that often does not coincide with relatively narrow flight paths. For what it is worth, the Indian Ocean is supposed to be even more desolate when it comes to air coverage).

And, second, despite protestations by some politicians and many pundits that the war on terror is over, the threat that terrorists might hijack a plane to use it in a future attack remains real. That in the intervening decade since the Boeing went missing in Africa there was no progress on tracking such planes simply shows the short attention span of American and international leaders and their continued tendency to drop the ball when it comes from learning from past episodes.

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