Two years of agony and uncertainty

  • Along The Watchtower
  • Wednesday, 09 Mar 2016

IT has been two agonising years for the families and their torment is still far from over.

Flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8, 2014, remains the most baffling aviation mystery in modern times.

The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200ER veered off its flight path with its transponder switched off, making it invisible to radar, after the pilot uttered his final words to air traffic controllers at 1.19am: “Good night Malaysian, three seven zero.”

And 732 days later, the most expansive and costly search for a missing aircraft in history is still going on and likely to continue, at least up to the end of June.

The quest has covered about 90,000 of the targeted 120,000sq km of the Southern Indian Ocean floor, tallying up a whopping RM453.5mil (US$133mil) in cost.

But the state-of-the-art sonar technologies of the ships involved at depths of 6.5km have only managed to find two old shipwrecks.

In January, a robotic underwater vessel of the Havila Harmony, one of the three ships involved in the hunt for MH370, confirmed finding the remains of a 19th century ship.

In May last year, the Fugro Equator found an even older shipwreck within the search area.

And except for three fragments of what are believed to be parts of the jet – bizarrely, two of which were found by the same person – there have been few clues to solve the enigma of the missing plane.

On July 29 last year, Johnny Begue, a beach cleaner in the French-ruled Reunion Island, retrieved a wing fragment called a flaperon, which has since been identified as part of MH370.

Last Thursday, the 49-year-old man claimed he had found another piece near the same spot on the Saint-Andre beach, a square-shaped grey part with a blue border.

The new 40cm by 20cm fragment appeared to be of the same material with a honeycomb core inside but, unlike the flaperon which was encrusted with barnacles on one side, it was clean and smooth.

The reported find came three days after another suspected part of the missing jet was discovered, by an American lawyer and amateur sleuth Blaine Gibson, about 2,000km away off the coast of Mozambique, in southeast Africa.

The triangular piece had the words “No Step” on one side, fuelling guesswork that it could be part of a horizontal stabiliser on the tail of an aircraft.

Martin Dolan, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) which is leading the search, is certain the plane would be found.

“It’s as likely on the last day of the search as on the first that the aircraft would be there.

“We’ve covered nearly three-quarters of the search area and since we haven’t found the aircraft in those areas, that increases the likelihood that it’s in the areas we haven’t looked at yet,” he was quoted as saying to The Guardian newspaper on Monday.

Such assurances are unlikely to relieve the anguish of families who have been waiting far too long for closure.

The endless number of theories, ranging from the remotely conceivable to the utterly absurd, rub more salt into the wound.

Among the conjectures and conspiracy notions are a hijacking, rogue pilot, fire caused by lithium batteries in the cargo hold, mechanical or electrical failure, shot down accidentally during a military exercise and cyber-hijacking of the jet to a remote military base.

There are also other weirder theories like alien abductions and space-time continuum, but let’s not get into that.

Over the past two years, the mystery over the missing jet has also spawned at least a couple of movies (A Dark Reflection and The Vanishing Act) and a series of books.

Flight MH370: The Mystery by journalist and author Nigel Cawthorne, Goodnight Malaysian 370: The Truth Behind the Loss of Flight 370 by Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson and Someone is Hiding Something which takes its name from one of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Chedet blog posts accusing the CIA of withholding information about the plane, are among them.

The authors of Someone is Hiding Something, Richard Belzer, David Wayne and George Noory, conclude that the vanishing of MH370 defies all logical explanation and suggest the more sinister scenario involving a remote-control hijacking and large scale cover-up.

Relatives of passengers are likely to be offended by one book – Where’s MH370?: How Long Until You Give Up – which pokes fun at the missing flight.

The illustrated pages allow readers to search for debris such as a suitcase, black box, oxygen mask, landing gear and a captain’s hat.

But besides the ongoing search in the Southern Indian Ocean, what else has been done to prevent another case of a flight going missing in a similar fashion?

After the tragic disappearance of MH370, the International Air Transport Association and the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) set up the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF).

The task force, comprising experts from across the aviation industry, including representatives from airlines, navigation service providers, safety organisations and pilot groups, assessed what could be done to improve global aircraft tracking capabilities between May and September 2014.

But the changes to address the gaps in safety were only announced by ICAO last week. Among other things, pilots of planes facing “distress” would have to automatically report their positions to help searchers find the wreckage quicker in the event of a crash.

However, the requirement would only apply to planes built in 2020 or later.

ICAO also announced that planes had to report their position every 15 minutes over open ocean by November 2018, compared with every 30 minutes now.

It approved a requirement for aircraft designed after Jan 1, 2021 to have 24-hour flight recorders which could be retrieved before they sink to the ocean floor.

As aviation is such a high-tech industry, why can’t the changes be made immediately?

Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco: Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.

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Opinion , M. Veera Pandiyan , columnist


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