The international team investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 two years ago today has released a second interim statement. It is very brief, and reveals no new conclusions.
The three-page statement, which was made accessible to close relatives of those on board the missing flight prior to its public release, was produced to comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements¹.
Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.
The flight’s disappearance is the greatest mystery in aviation history and the air and sea search for the aircraft is the biggest ever carried out. A huge area of the ocean floor has been examined in detail.
The new statement makes only two main points: the wreckage of the aircraft has not been found, and only one piece of debris – a flaperon discovered on the French island of Reunion on July 29 last year – has been determined to have been a part of the missing plane.
The statement also lists the current areas of investigation.
The investigators say they are continuing to work towards finalising their analysis, conclusions, and safety recommendations and are focusing on eight areas:
- diversion from the filed flight plan route;
- air traffic services operations;
- flight crew profile;
- airworthiness, maintenance, and aircraft systems;
- satellite communications;
- wreckage and impact information (following the recovery and verification of a flaperon from the aircraft);
- organisation and management information (the Department of Civil Aviation, Malaysia, and Malaysia Airlines); and
- aircraft cargo consignment.
A final report will be completed in the event that wreckage of the aircraft is located or
the search is terminated, whichever is the earlier.
Reacting to the new statement, relatives of those on board the missing Boeing 777 told Channel NewsAsia that they were disappointed by the scarcity of details about recent findings of potential debris on Reunion Island and in Mozambique.
According to Channel NewsAsia, some families had hoped to read an analysis of the barnacles covering the wing flaperon found on Reunion last year.
The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said in September last year that analysis of the flaperon, discovered on Reunion’s Saint-André beach in July, had allowed investigators to determine “with certitude” that it came from Flight MH370.
In a more recent development, a suspected piece of debris was found on a sandbank in Mozambique on February 27 by an American, Blaine Alan Gibson, who has been searching for wreckage over the past year. It will be analysed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). Representatives of Boeing and the Malaysian investigation team will advise.
The triangular-shaped piece of metal is 94 centimetres long at the base and 60 centimetres high. The words “No Step” are printed along one side of the fragment.
Blaine Alan Gibson.
Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Liow Tiong Lai, said there was a “high probability” that the debris was from a Boeing 777.
Last Thursday, Johnny Begue, the man who discovered the flaperon, found some other possible aircraft debris on the same beach, in nearly the same place.
On this occasion, the debris, which measured 40 by 20 centimetres and was square-shaped and grey with a blue border, was not covered in barnacles.
Map courtesy of the BBC.
First interim report
The first interim report into the disappearance of MH370, released last year, was 584 pages long.
It revealed that the battery on the beacon of the flight data recorder expired more than a year before the plane vanished.
The report states that, according to maintenance records, the battery on the beacon attached to the flight data recorder expired in December 2012. “There is some extra margin in the design to account for battery life variability and ensure that the unit will meet the minimum requirement.”
However, the report adds that, once the battery’s expiry date has passed, the effectiveness of the Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB) decreases so it may operate for a reduced time period until the battery finally discharges.
“While there is a definite possibility that a ULB will operate past the expiry date on the device, it is not guaranteed that it will work or that it would meet the 30-day minimum requirement,” the report states. “There is also limited assurance that the nature of the signal (characteristics such as frequency and power) will remain within specification when battery voltage drops below the nominal 30-day level.”
The report says there is no evidence to suggest that the battery on the beacon of the data recorder had been replaced before the expiry date. However, the battery on the beacon of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder was replaced, as scheduled, with the next expiry date in June 2014.
Explaining why the maintenance lapse had occurred, the report says the engineering maintenance system was not updated correctly when the ULB on the solid state flight data recorder (SSFDR) was replaced on February 29, 2008.
The first interim report confirmed that the last transmission from the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) on MH370 was made at 0107:29 Malaysian time, 25 minutes after take-off. The Malaysian authorities say the ACARS and transponder were deliberately turned off.
Najib said after the disappearance of MH370 that there was a “high degree of certainty” that someone on board the aircraft deliberately disabled the ACARS, which transmits information about a plane’s engine health, and had also switched off the transponder, which transmits such details as altitude, speed, and location.
The prime minister said at that time that MH370’s movements were “consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane”. The plane did turn around after take-off, and flew on well after its apparent disappearance, he said.
In January last year, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, officially declared the disappearance of Flight MH370 to be an accident and said that all 239 people on board were presumed to have died.
He said the underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean was continuing, but after 327 days, and based on available data, survivability in the defined area was “highly unlikely”.
Under international agreements, relatives have two years following an air accident to begin legal action.
Relatives of 12 Chinese passengers filed lawsuits in Beijing yesterday (Monday) and the families of 32 other passengers, mostly Chinese, are reported to have filed a separate lawsuit in Malaysia.
Forty-three relatives are reported to have launched legal actions in the United States, and lawsuits have also been filed in Australia.
Lawsuits have been brought not just against Malaysia Airlines, but also against the Malaysian government, the Malaysian aviation authority and the air force.
Some next-of-kin have accepted an out-of-court settlement with Malaysia Airlines and have agreed not to take the matter any further.
Search may end soon
The multimillion-dollar search for MH370 has been centred on an area of the southern Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres off the western coast of Australia.
There are many who have cast doubt on the calculations made by the British company Inmarsat that determined the search location. Inmarsat analysed satellite pings – or handshakes – from the aircraft.
Australian-led search teams are still combing a 120,000 square kilometre area of the ocean.
It has been stated that once this current search area has been completely covered, which is likely to be by about June this year, the search will end.
However, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, said today that, if MH370 is not found in that area, “Malaysia, Australia, and China will hold a tripartite meeting to determine the way forward”.
Martin Dolan, who heads the ATSB, which is co-ordinating the search, told the BBC that the governments’ positions were unchanged and the search would end soon “unless new and significant information comes to light”.
In his statement, Najib said: “Today, we mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of Flight MH370. We mourn the loss of the 239 people, including 50 Malaysians, who were on board.”
The discovery of debris on Reunion last July provided further evidence that Flight MH370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean, Najib said. “But we know that neither the passage of time, nor this evidence, will comfort those whose grief cannot be assuaged.”
The disappearance of MH370 was without precedent, he continued, and the search had been the most challenging in aviation history.
“Amidst some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain – at depths of up to six kilometres, across underwater mountain ranges, and in the world’s fastest currents – the search team have been working tirelessly to find MH370’s resting place. We are grateful for their efforts.
“We remain committed to doing everything within our means to solving what is an agonising mystery for the loved ones of those who were lost.”
Despite the discovery of the aircraft flaperon, it would still be extremely difficult for investigators to work out where the main wreckage of MH370 is located. Indian Ocean currents can carry debris for thousands of kilometres and drift modelling is known to be imprecise.
Martin Dolan said in August that the discovery of debris would not help pinpoint where the plane went down. He told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency: “Over the last 16 or 17 months, any floating debris would have dispersed quite markedly across the Indian Ocean.”
Australia’s federal transport minister, Warren Truss, said that reverse modelling of ocean currents to determine where Flight MH370 went down was “almost impossible”.
Closure still a long way off
Since MH370 disappeared there have been innumerable theories about its fate that range from the perfectly plausible to the wildly bizarre. There have been accusations of ineptitude on the part of the Malaysian government, and allegations of a cover-up.
Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has publicly alleged that the fate of MH370 has been concealed.
Another person who alleges a cover-up is French journalist Florence de Changy, whose book “Le vol MH370 n’a pas disparu” (Flight MH370 did not disappear), comes out on March 9.
De Changy does not believe the official version of events. She says it is absurd; that it is impossible in this hi-tech day and age for a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board to disappear. She is convinced that there are those who know what happened to the plane, and why.
The journalist cites experts who have doubts about the authorities’ stated conviction that the flaperon discovered on Reunion Island is from MH370.
There are those who still allege that the plane was shot down by the United States military when it was en route to Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean that is owned by the British and is home to a major US military base.
This is a theory that has been put forward by the former director of the French airline Proteus, Marc Dugain. He has suggested that US military personnel may have shot down MH370 over the Indian Ocean to prevent it being used to attack the Diego Garcia base.
Dugain also speculated that the plane may have been forced to divert from its flight path because of remote hacking or an on-board fire.
He pointed to the testimony of residents of the Maldives who said they saw an airliner travelling towards Diego Garcia on March 8, but whose claims were dismissed.
Many theorists have pointed the finger at Captain Zaharie Shah and, in a book published in 2014, New Zealand journalist Geoff Taylor and pilot Ewan Wilson went as far as saying he was suicidal and performed a controlled ditching in the sea. There is not a shred of evidence to back up their theory and the book, in which the authors dream up a very detailed on-board scenario, outraged Zaharie’s friends and family.
Friends and relatives of Zaharie say they do not believe he could have hijacked the plane, and there is no actual evidence that either of the pilots are responsible for the disappearance of Flight MH370.
The first interim report says CCTV recordings showed no significant changes in the behavioural pattern of either pilot before MH370 took off. The gait, posture, facial expressions, and mannerism were Captain Zaharie’s normal characteristics, the report says. “There were no significant changes in his life style, interpersonal conflict or family stresses.”
Whoever, or whatever, caused the disappearance of MH370, the mystery remains unsolved and, two years on, relatives and friends of those on board are still dealing with the pain of losing their loved-ones, and are a long way from finding real closure.
1) If a final report cannot be made publicly available within twelve months, the state conducting the investigation is required to make an interim statement publicly available on each anniversary of the occurrence, detailing the progress of the investigation and any safety issues raised.
The MH370 safety investigation team comprises 19 Malaysians and accredited representatives from safety investigation authorities in seven other countries.
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