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Why are we so gripped by missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

By Dana Ford, CNN
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's been more than a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished into thin air
  • The story has dominated headlines and social media
  • "It's no longer a story about an airplane crash; it's a mystery story," says one pilot

(CNN) -- It's been more than a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seemingly vanished into thin air. Clues are few and far between.

Yet we remain glued to the story -- hungry, some almost desperate, for any tidbit of news. Why?

"I think the most fascinating aspect of this story now is that it's become ... transcendent. And by that, I mean, it's no longer a story about an airplane crash; it's a mystery story," Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, blogger and author, told CNN's "Piers Morgan Live."

The story of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has dominated headlines and social media since it broke.

By Sunday night, it was no longer trending on Twitter in the United States, but it remained among the top stories in Malaysia and India.

A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8. A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8.
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
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Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Tracking Malaysia Air flight 370
Flight 370: Facts vs. speculation

Folks are using the hashtag #MH370 to connect. And people are doing more than just watching, or reading, the news.

They're getting involved.

Thousands of aspiring good Samaritans volunteered their time to scour part of the plane's search zone using detailed satellite images posted online by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado firm that owns one of the world's most advanced commercial satellite networks.

In fact, so many people joined the effort that the firm's website -- with its pinpoint pictures of everything floating in the ocean -- crashed.

One volunteer, Mike Seberger, 43, found a fascinating image in a matter of minutes: the silhouette in the ocean has the scale of a Boeing 777-200, the same model of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. His discovery can be seen on his CNN iReport page.

It's both the flight's commonness and its rareness that might have us gripped.

One the one hand, many people travel by plane who can relate easily to the experience of flying.

Until the mystery is solved, who among us isn't going to jump the next time we're on a plane and feel a bump of turbulence? That's what happened to Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

"We tend to identify with these kinds of disasters, and so the fear of flying may go up for many people," psychiatrist Gail Saltz said on that program.

An insatiable demand for news
What does the U.S. know about MH 370?

On the other hand, cases such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are extremely rare.

"This is a very strange event," said aviation historian Carroll Gray. "It doesn't lend itself to the normal sets of explanations."

Such mysteries are "phenomenally gripping," Gray said. "Things that are unsolved just sort of grab people, especially when you have the common experience of flying."

Saltz agreed.

"They want someone to hold accountable. It's a very disturbing thought, and right now we can't figure out who's to blame," she said.

The psychiatrist summed up our fascination: "I think this nebulousness keeps us riveted."

READ: Malaysian government uncomfortable in spotlight over missing plane

READ: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Get up to speed on the latest developments

READ: Malaysia Flight 370: The 10 big questions

READ: Flight 370 joins some of history's biggest mysteries

MAP IT: What happened to Flight 370?

READ: Sleepless nights, agonizing days for father

CNN's Nick Valencia, Alan Duke, Michael Martinez and John Newsome contributed to this report.

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