Why Are Americans Obsessed with the Missing Plane?

By Margie Mason

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- From the disappearances of aviator Amelia Earhart to labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, there's just something about a good mystery that Americans find too tantalizing to resist. Perhaps that's why the saga of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has continued to rivet the country long after people elsewhere have moved on.

From the beginning, the story has bubbled with enough drama to rival a good Hollywood whodunit. And even though it unfolded on the other side of the world with only three Americans on board, many were sucked in anyway.

"This story has many ingredients of compelling drama, particularly early on: lives at stake, mystery unsolved, a race against time, human emotion," Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said in an email.

Many found it impossible to believe that a modern Boeing 777 carrying 239 people could just vanish without a trace in an age where an iPhone can be tracked just about anywhere.

And so they tuned in to watch the latest developments. And when there were no new developments, they stayed glued to their smartphones because the suspense of not knowing - or possibly missing something new - somehow spiked when nothing was going on. From oil slicks to pings from dying black boxes, each new lead provided a salacious morsel that drove viewers to wonder: Will this be it?

"I find myself drawn into watching or reading about it because it has taken on seemingly mythic worldwide importance," Paul Mones, an attorney from Portland, Oregon wrote in an email. "In this modern world we simply refuse to accept that something so concrete can get so out of our physical reach and understanding. ... People just refuse to concede that the cause of the disaster will likely forever remain unknown."

After six weeks of breathless reporting, not one shred of hard evidence has been found from the jetliner. An unmanned underwater submarine is now using sonar to comb the ocean floor at a depth exceeding 4 1/2 kilometers (2.8 miles) off the west coast of Australia. It is desperately trying to spot something - anything - that resembles wreckage in an area where signals believed to be coming from the plane's dying black boxes were heard.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center conducted April 3-6, the missing plane remained the top news story in the U.S., with 33 percent of people saying they followed it over a deadly shooting at Fort Hood Army base, developments related to Ukraine and President Obama's health care overhaul. That's down from 39 percent in the previous March questionnaire, when nearly half of those asked said they thought the hunt for MH370 was being given the right amount of coverage.

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© 2014 The Associated Press

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