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Editorial: Mystery of Flight 370 demands answers

This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec.

This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec. 26, 2011, shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday, taking off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. Credit: AP/Laurent Errera

We live in a remarkable time. We can pinpoint a missing cellphone in a garbage can miles from home. We can use satellites to determine what kinds of flowers someone on the other side of the country planted in their front yard. We can track pets with microchips.

So how can we lose a plane?

In the context of our high-tech society, the case of the missing Malaysian jet has been baffling. It has gnawed at our belief in what's possible. Finally, five days after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, a potentially credible lead on where it might have crashed emerged yesterday.

The 10-nation search for the wreckage now has new focus. But the need for answers to why the plane went down -- and why it took the Chinese so long to release their satellite images -- remains urgent.

If there was a mechanical failure, we need to fix the 1,000-plus other Boeing 777s in service. If it was terrorism, we need to change security procedures. If it was pilot error, we need to better train personnel. It took two years to locate the main wreckage and black boxes from an Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean nearly five years ago. But the payoff was a report that found a combination of mechanical problems and pilot error in response to those problems.

If weeks and months pass, we also must keep looking for the plane and its 239 people because that's the social contract we have with each other. If you're missing, we're going to look for you. If you're buried by an avalanche, we'll grab shovels and start digging. And if you're clinging to a seat cushion in the middle of an ocean, someone is coming.

The victims' families also need closure. It's a primal need, whether the loved one was a serviceman lost in war or someone who perished on Sept. 11. In an era when we grow more certain of everything, mysteries remind us not everything is knowable. But we can't settle for that in times like this. We need answers.