IN early March 2014, the world was captivated in a way never seen before by the news of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, MH370. The last voice contact with the flight crew was early morning March 8 somewhere over the South China Sea, just over an hour after take-off. Soon after the plane disappeared from Malaysian Air traffic Control radars, but was tracked shortly after flying over the Malay Peninsula, and tracking across the Andaman Sea.
MH370 was a Boeing 777-200ER, which had 227 passengers and 15 crew members aboard that night. This disappearance of the aircraft has led to one of the largest and longest searches in history for the aircraft, which is still going on today in the Southern Indian Ocean, the most probable place authorities believe that plane went down.
MH370 is not the only aviation mystery. There have been a long line of aviation mysteries, many which still have not been solved today. Yet time has allowed other cases to be solved when someone stumbles across wreckage or other artefacts from lost flights. Such a case included a South American Airways Star Dust aircraft that disappeared in 1947. It took 50 years to solve this mystery when glacial ice in the Andes melted, exposing the aircraft wreckage. More recently, the remains of Air France Flight 447, were only found two years after it disappeared.
However the search area for the ill-fated MH370 is hundreds of times more expansive than flight 447.
As the events of March 2014 panned out, several things became clear.
The first thing exposed by the MH370 tragedy was the haphazardness of the Malaysian Government. The early responses of the government were heavily criticized for uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory approach to the disaster. The chief spokesman for the Malaysian Government Defence Minister and acting transport minister was criticized for his smugness, evasiveness, sometimes condescending attitude, and delay in providing information to the families of MH370 passengers and public.
It took Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak a week before he appeared on television after the plane vanished. This delay made Malaysia appear very unprofessional to people who were not familiar with the political culture of Malaysia.
The families and relatives of the missing were particularly critical of the search operation. Critical time was lost searching for flight MH370 in the South China Sea. Voice370, representing the families of the passengers, accused the Malaysian government of a cover-up. The families and relatives of the passengers, mainly Chinese nationals, were angered by the coarseness of an English language text announcement that said, “we have to assume beyond all reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and all those on board haven’t survived”. This led to Chinese protests outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing.
Almost two years since the disappearance of flight MH370, criticism still persists about Malaysia Airlines safety issues. Malaysia Airlines has performed very poorly financially since the disappearance of MH370, the shooting down of MH17, and boycotts by Chinese that brought a reported 50 percent drop in passengers compared to the previous year.
The Malaysian government’s poor response to the MH370 disappearance showed up both the lack of transparency and the dismal state of the Malaysian media, which has been shackled for years. Ministers and public officials were not used to the scrutiny the international media put them under.
The second issue was the poor coordination between civil and military authorities. This is not unique to Malaysia, the same problem purportedly occurred during the 911 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Although flight MH370 was detected by Malaysian military radar crossing the Malay Peninsula soon after the final voice communication to Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control, it took civil authorities a number of days before they moved the search from the South China Sea to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean. Vietnam also expressed concerns that Malaysia was not forthcoming with new information.
This leads onto the third issue of international defence capabilities and cooperation. MH370 must have come up as a radar signature across Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. According to reports, it was only after MH370 had disappeared for nine days that the Thais informed the Malaysians that they had picked up an unidentified flight crossing the Malay Peninsula. According to Indonesian authorities no unidentified flight was ever picked up on radar, which hints that either the system wasn’t being used or MH370 very skilfully flew along the boundaries of the radar detection area of Indonesia.
This raises questions about ASEAN military surveillance capabilities.
Given that military authorities may be hesitant to disclose the extent of their respective early warning radar systems, The Mail suggests that air defences may not be what they are supposed to be.
The delay in sharing vital information with Malaysia shows the poor state of defence cooperation within the region.
The fact that a large modern airliner could just disappear has been met with much disbelief, leading to a number of conspiracy theories.
Some claim that the aircraft was hijacked by North Korea for the new technologies that Boeing 777 has incorporated within the plane. U.S. science writer Jeff Wise, who regularly appears on CNN, postulated that the aircraft flew north rather than south into the Indian Ocean and landed in Kazakhstan. Another theory is that the United States shot down the plane to ensure a drone shot down by the Taliban over Afghanistan with secret technology in the cargo bay didn’t get into the hands of the Chinese. A variation on this theory is that the aircraft was forcibly taken to a U.S. base on the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia, where the crew and passengers are captives.
Conspiracy theorists put weight on the fact that 20 employees of a semi-conductor company Freescale Semiconductor, which develops components for hi-tech military weapons and navigation systems, were on board MH370. Their disappearance, according to some, could have been the result of stealth technology this group had been working on. Others have proposed that the disappearance of these engineers allowed a member of the Rothschild family to secure sole ownership of an important patent.
Still more theories speculate the plane’s disappearance was about a life insurance scam; the plane was captured and exchanged for MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine, later in August 2014; the plane was cyber-jacked electronically; and the plane was abducted by aliens.
Even though fragments of MH370 found on Reunion Island and have been confirmed as parts of MH370, there are some who claim that the pieces are fake.
Debris found washed up on a beach along the East Coast of Thailand last month was suspected of being parts of MH370, until this was discounted by aviation authorities in Bangkok.
The initial suspicion on the disappearance of MH370 was related to two passengers using false passports. This indicated a possible hijacking. The turn flight MH370 made over the South China Sea and around Indonesian territory appeared to support this deliberate act. News that the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid had allowed passengers into the cockpit during a previous flight also made this theory appear plausible.
The phone call Fariq was reported to have tried to make over Penang even adds more weight to the MH370 disappearance being a deliberate act. However, upon investigation of all the passengers and crew, no links to terrorism was ever made with anybody on the flight. This only exposed a lapse in security as the two passports of the passengers involved where actually on the Interpol database, but not checked by Malaysian Immigration.
This doesn’t count out a disturbed member of the crew having a ‘death-wish’ and using the flight to commit suicide. The captain could have locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit. This scenario happened on a Silk Air flight some years ago where the captain lost his savings on the stock-market and committed suicide, and with Egypt Air flight 990 where the co-pilot committed suicide by diving the plane straight into the sea.
The latest explanation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATAC) suggests a power failure, which probably disabled avionic systems where the plane would have flown on auto-pilot until fuel was exhausted, where it would turn into a spiral nose dive going straight into the Southern Indian Ocean. The rebooting of the ACARS system which transmits engine data to the ground suggests a power failure. The lithium batteries in the cargo hold could have been a source of that fire which disabled electronic systems, vital to control and manage a sophisticated aircraft like a Boeing 777. Lithium batteries have caused fires on aircraft before. This is what happened to a South African Airways flight in 1987.
The crew and passengers may have been disabled through hypoxia, where the plane flew on autopilot. This could have been a similar scenario to the Helios Airlines Flight 522 crash in 2005, where two jets were scrambled and the pilots saw all the passengers incapacitated, with the flight eventually crashing after it ran out of fuel.
However this explanation doesn’t explain the apparent deliberate flight around Aceh, where MH370 avoided Indonesian radar. This would have to be a carefully planned part of the flight. This scenario points to a purposeful act, and MH370 could have been a hijacking gone wrong, something like Ethiopia Airways Flight 961, where the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea in 1996.
Although it was confirmed pieces of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island where part of MH370, what happened and the whereabouts of the fuselage and remains of the passengers and crew still remain a mystery. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said that the search effort will now have to retrace some previously searched locations due to the complexity of the ocean surface and possibility the wreckage may have been missed. The search has been extremely hazardous, resulting in a loss of the deep water sonar which hit an underwater volcano and sank to the bottom of the ocean a few weeks ago.
A French team is currently developing another theory of what happened to flight MH370 based upon the piece of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island, which was found in an unexpected location in relation to the targeted search area. Another report expected to be released by the Malaysian Government on the second anniversary of the plane’s disappearance may incorporate this theory in the report.
The truth about MH370 is that we don’t really know what happened on that night of March 8, 2014, how the flight ended, and what became of the passengers and aircraft. Everything the authorities have said is pure speculation. The black box data recorder holds all the secrets to the doomed flight. This needs to be recovered before the truth can be known with certainty.
Even with all the technology we have today, the Earth is larger than we think. Satellite photography, the U.S. ability to identify any missile launch on the face of the Earth, aviation procedures and protocols, and defence surveillance around the globe failed to notice and find a rogue aircraft, even post 911.
Ideas are needed and resources allocated to help prevent this scenario ever happening again. However almost two years after the disappearance of MH370, nothing has been put in place to enable the tracking of rogue aircraft, should they deviate from flight plans and procedures.
Solutions exist and are in practice. Over the vast region of Hudson Bay, radar blind spots are covered by approximations using flight plans, GPS, and broadcasts under an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADSB) system. Such systems are not operating over Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The MH370 tragedy indicates that the skies over the region are not being watched closely at all. This lack of diligent surveillance has made the search for MH370 the most costly in history.
With the present search only planned to continue until June this year, relatives and loved ones of the people on MH370 may not get closure for two or three generations to come.
Authorities are now beginning to return to some of the original hypothesized theories to explore the MH370 disappearance further, such as a flame out or rogue pilot scenario similar to the Andreas Lubitz case where he deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus A320-211 into the French Alps. The questions about whether the pilot deliberately turned off the transponder over the South China Sea will probably be open to debate once again.
The mystery of MH370 may only be finally put to rest in the later part of this century, and this may only happen by accident.