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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Missing MH370: A frustrating five days and a flood of contradictory info

PETALING JAYA: It’s been a frustrating five days since Flight MH370 flight was reported missing on Saturday morning with no sign of the craft although thousands of man-hours are being spent in a multi-national, multi-million dollar search and rescue operation.

However, it gets more frustrating with the flood of contradictory information that’s coming­ from the authorities, raising questions about transparency and whether the different agencies are even speaking to one another.

The media spotlight on Malaysia is intense at the moment, and the authorities have told the public “not to speculate” but are they on the same page before coming out with statements and information?

Here are just some of the contradictions and inconsistencies that have left the media and public bewildered.

> How many people missed the flight?

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) said five people did not board the flight despite checking in. The DCA said the bags of these five people were removed as per international standards and that they were “clean”.

The Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told a press conference there was no such thing and that one student cancelled her ticket after mixing up her flight dates.

“Take it from me. There was no such thing,” said Khalid when asked by a reporter about the DCA’s statement.

Then, Malaysia Airlines muddied things up further with a statement that there were four passengers who had valid bookings on flight MH370, but did not show up to check in for the flight.

> Did the Iranian impostors use their own passports or stolen passports?

Immigration Department director Aloyah Mamat said the two Iranians used the stolen Austrian and Italian passports to come into the country.

However, Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said the two men entered Malaysia on their Iranian passports before switching to the stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

If they entered on the Iranian documents, were there entry stamps on the EU documents? Who entered the country with those documents? Interpol says they came in from Doha. Malaysia says they came in from Phuket.

Did they leave Doha using Iranian passports, obtain the stolen documents at the KLIA transit area and then enter the country on the EU documents? No one knows although The Star has reported the existence of a forged passport ring in the transit area.

> How many people were being investigated?

Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said on Sunday that four passengers used stolen European passports to board the flight. Later, the authorities clarified that only two people boarded the flights with stolen passports.

It didn’t help matters that Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi slammed Immigration officers for not being able to detect Asians using European names. Hishammuddin contradicted him, saying they were not Asian looking.

To make things worse, DCA director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman made that unfortunate reference to Bartoli (he meant footballer Mario Balotelli). That led to some news portals deciding the impostors were African-looking. They were, in fact, fair-skinned Iranians.

> Pictures of impostors released by the police are the same.

Many are questioning why the bottom halves of the two released pictures of the Iranian impostors are the same. It’s a minor matter, with the authorities saying the pictures were cropped but why was the bottom part of one person attached to both these charac­ters? One explanation was that it is to achieve equal proportion but there are any number of ways to do that.

> Did the plane turn or did it not?

When the story first broke, MAS said the plane was last detected at 2.40am about 120 nautical miles east of the coast of Kota Baru. The DCA, however, said the plane was last detected at 1.30am. Later, the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces (RMAF) chief was reported to have said the military base in Butterworth detected the plane in the vicinity of Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca at 2.40am. He has since denied making the statement but this contradiction has thrown the search into disarray with Vietnam and Thailand planning to opt out and India coming on board.

There was much sympathy for Malaysia over the daunting task it faced in the search and rescue operation when the plane went missing but these contradictions – and the many far-fetched speculation on social media – have only led to more anger and angst, leaving­ the country facing a barrage of criticism instead.

And the entry of a bomoh with bamboo binoculars amid all the high-tech aircraft and ships equipped with state-of-the-art tracking devices only serves to make us a laughing stock.

Tags / Keywords: Transport Safety , MAS flight , KL , Beijing , missing flight , MH370


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