An interim report on the investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 exactly one year ago has just been released in Kuala Lumpur.
The 584-page report reveals that the battery on the beacon of the flight data recorder expired more than a year before the plane vanished on March 8 last year.
The report on the findings of the international safety investigation team was released today (Sunday) to comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements.
The document contains extremely detailed technical information, but gives no clue as to what might have happened to the Boeing 777, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.
The relatives and friends of those on board are still awaiting concrete evidence of what happened to their loved ones. Despite a massive international search, no debris has been found on land or in the ocean.
“The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of future accidents or incidents,” the statement that accompanies the interim report points out. “It is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability.”
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.
“Since the system was not updated it did not trigger for the removal of the SSFDR for replacement of the ULB battery when it was due … This oversight was not noted until after the disappearance of MH370 when details of the ULBs were requested.
“Subsequently, MAS Engineering Technical records carried out a fleet-wide record inspection for the ULBs to ensure all records for other aircraft are updated accordingly.”
The interim report says that it could not be established that there had been a fire on the aircraft “as there was no reported of air or ground fire”. Survivability, it says, was “not applicable at this stage of the investigation”.
The report confirms 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.
The interim report provides extremely detailed information about the crew of flight MH370, and goes into their financial background and insurance, their medical and medication history, and what is referred to as “psychological and social events”.
It states: “There were no behavioural signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse of the Captain, First Officer and the Cabin Crew.”
Many theorists have pointed the finger at Captain Zaharie Shah and, in a book published last year, 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 new 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.”
The report contains information about Malaysia Airlines (MAS) training and performance checks and, of course, detail about the tracking of the missing plane and the search operation, which is ongoing.
There is nothing new in what is said about the last moments of communication with Flight MH370 or the details of its disappearance from secondary radar.
“At 1719:30 UTC [0119:30 MYT], MH370 acknowledged with “Good night Malaysia Three Seven Zero”,” the report states. “This was the last recorded radio transmission from MH370.
“Radar recording showed that MH370 passed through waypoint IGARI at 1720:31 UTC[0120:31 MYT].”
Flight MH370 dropped off from radar display at 1720:36 UTC [0120:36 MYT], the report adds, “and the last secondary radar position symbol of MH370 was recorded at 1721:13 UTC [0121:13 MYT]”.
Thereafter, the report says, Kuala Lumpur air traffic control initiated efforts involving the MAS Operations Centre, Hong Kong air traffic control, and Phnom Penh air traffic control in Cambodia in an attempt to establish the location of MH370.
“No contact had been established by any of the ATC units. The Kuala Lumpur Rescue Coordination Centre (KLRCC) was activated at 2232 UTC [0632 MYT].”
The Malaysian authorities have been criticised over the time gap between MH370’s apparent disappearance and the start of the search and rescue operation, and for the many mixed messages given out after MH370 went missing. At one stage, Malaysia Airlines said the plane was flying somewhere over Cambodia, and had to correct this inaccuracy later.
The new report goes into great detail about the rescue alert timeline. After four hours and eleven minutes had passed since the last contact with MH370, the KL Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) was activated at 2130 UTC (0530 MYT), it states.
It took another one hour and two minutes for the DETRESFA (distress phase) message to be disseminated via the Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network (AFTN) at 2232 UTC [0632 MYT].
The interim report goes on to give details about the military radar data, which, it says, provided more extensive details about what is referred to as “Air Turn Back”.
Military radar showed MH370 turning right, then almost immediately making a constant left turn to a south-westerly direction, the report states. “At 1752:35 UTC [0152:35 MYT] radar return was observed to be slightly south of Penang Island.”
The report continues: “After the last radar return disappeared from KL ATCC Primary Radar at 1752:35 UTC [0152:35 MYT], the Military Radar continued to track this radar return as it headed towards Pulau Perak, a small island over the Straits of Malacca. The time registered over Pulau Perak was 1802:59 UTC [0202:59].
“The tracking by the Military continued as the radar return was observed to be heading towards waypoint MEKAR, a waypoint on Airways N571, when it disappeared abruptly at 1822:12 UTC [0222:12 MYT],10 nautical miles (Nm) after waypoint MEKAR.”
This is the first time there has been official mention of civilian primary radar spotting an aircraft that could have been MH370 after it disappeared from secondary air traffic control radar at just after 1h21 a.m. Malaysian time on March 8.
The aircraft’s diversion from its scheduled route was recorded on the playback of Department of Civil Aviation radar data from Kota Bharu in the northeast of peninsular Malaysia, the interim report states, and an “aircraft target” was later spotted on KL air traffic control’s primary radar.
The interim report states: “From 1730:37 UTC [0130:37 MYT] to 1744:52 UTC [0144:52 MYT] a primary aircraft target was captured by the Terminal Primary Approach Radar located to the south of Kota Bharu Airport runway.”
It continues: “The appearance of an aircraft target on the KL ATCC radar display, coded as P3362, was recorded at 1730:37 UTC [0130:37 MYT] but disappeared from the radar display at 1737:22 UTC [0137:22 MYT].”
The report then details the appearance and disappearance of an “aircraft target” from the KL air traffic control radar display between 0144:52 and 0152:35 Malaysian time, at which point it disappeared altogether from that display.
Fuel and cargo report
The aircraft information provided in the report includes details about the maintenance schedule, engine health monitoring, repairs, fuel, and the emergency locator transmitters.
On the issue of fuel, the report says: “The Captain ordered 49,100 kilograms (kg) of fuel for the flight that gave an endurance of 07 hours and 31 minutes including reserves. The planned flight duration was 05 hours and 34 minutes.”
There is also meteorological information and detail about the communications systems on the plane, including satellite information.
The conclusion that Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean is based solely on the analysis by experts at the British company Inmarsat of satellite pings – or handshakes – from the aircraft.
There is detail in the new report about MH370’s cargo, including the consignment of lithium batteries and the mangosteen fruits that have been the source of much discussion.
The batteries were not regulated as dangerous goods because the packing adhered to the guidelines, the report states.
Most of the mangosteens originated from Johor and some from Sumatra, the report states. They were loaded into four containers and weighed a total of 4,566 kilos.
Looking to the future
The interim statement says that, in the months ahead, the investigation team will need to analyse the factual information that has been gathered and draw conclusions and make safety recommendations based on that information. Steps would also be taken to include further validation of the factual information on the emergence of new evidence.
As relatives and friends of those on board Flight MH370 attempt to digest what is being said in the interim report, there must be sadness and disappointment that they are still no closer to knowing what happened to their loved ones.
Numerous individual gatherings and ceremonies took place in Malaysia today, but there was no national event to mark the anniversary of the disappearance of MH370.
Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, says he is confident that the plane will be found in the southern Indian Ocean, but the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday (March 5): “I can’t promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever, but we will continue our very best efforts to resolve this mystery and provide some answers.”
There are currently four vessels involved in the underwater search in the “Roaring Forties” and more than 26,800 square kilometres of the mapped ocean floor – which is about 40 per cent of the priority search area – have now been examined in detail.
Those with loved ones on board MH370 fear the search for the plane will end without any answers, and its disappearance will be consigned to the annals of history.
Many believe the search teams have been looking in the wrong place. There is no concrete evidence that MH370 actually crashed and there are those who surmise that the plane landed somewhere.
There are many people, including Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who say that the fate of the plane is being concealed.
Article updated at 16h30, 09/03/2015.