The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) today released its final report on the search in the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and said the disappearance of the plane with 239 people on board “remains a great tragedy”.
The ATSB expressed its deepest sympathies to the families of the passengers and crew on board MH370. It was “almost inconceivable” in this day and age, the ATSB said, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know what had become of it and those on board.
“We share your profound and prolonged grief, and deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing.”
Relatives of those on board MH370 are calling for the suspended search to be resumed immediately in a newly identified zone.
In an operation that went on for 1,046 days, the Australian-led search team scoured an area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres, but not a single trace of MH370 was found.
The only debris that is said to be from MH370 has been retrieved off the coast of Africa.
MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, when it was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The 440-page ATSB report, The Operational Search for MH370, states that the search zone has now been “considerably narrowed” to an area of less than 25,000 square kilometres, where, it says, there is the “highest likelihood” of MH370 being located.
“The understanding of where MH370 may be located is better now than it has ever been,” the report states.
This, for the relatives of those on board MH370, is a strong argument for resuming the search, which was suspended on January 17 this year. The tripartite decision to suspend the search was made by Malaysia, China, and Australia.
The finality in the ATSB report is painful for those who have lost their loved-ones.
Research by Australian experts has indicated that MH370 may have gone down in an area of the southern Indian Ocean just north of the zone searched previously, and a private seabed exploration firm in the United States, Ocean Infinity, has offered to search for the plane and says that it will only accept payment for the search if it finds it.
Australian Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was a passenger on MH370, says she applauds the ATSB for its dedicated commitment to searching for MH370 and for highlighting in its report “a very crucial point that I have been trying to make”.
She is referring to the statement in the report that it is “almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era, with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board”.
‘Disappearance cannot remain a mystery’
The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found, the report states.
Weeks reiterates that the disappearance of MH370 cannot remain a mystery, “not only so we may have closure and the final peace we desperately want and deserve for our loved-ones and ourselves, but as a guarantee that whatever happened to this Boeing 777 will never happen again”.
She calls on the Australian Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to which Malaysia belongs, to pressure the Malaysian government to resume the search in the 25,000 square-kilometre area identified by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which also released a report today: The search for MH370 and ocean surface drift – Part IV.
“If the Malaysian government refuses such a request, we will continue to fight and one day succeed in bringing Paul home to us, a promise I made to him and our boys.”
“Search must go on’
K.S. Narendran (pictured left), whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, also calls for the search to continue. It must go on, he says, “until every option that has ever been on the table has been exhausted”.
Voice370, which is the association for relatives of those on board MH370, says Ocean Infinity’s offer should be accepted without further delay.
‘A great tragedy’
The chief commissioner of the ATSB, Greg Hood, said: ““Our deepest sympathies remain with those who lost loved-ones on MH370.
“It remains a great tragedy, and we wish that we could have brought complete closure to the bereaved.
“I hope, however, that they can take some solace in the fact that we did all we could do to find answers. Governments from around the world contributed to the search, with extraordinary expertise committed to the task.”
The report states that the underwater search “has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision”.
The Southern Indian Ocean search area was defined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat that were based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370. Inmarsat identified a 7th arc, along which it said MH370 was most likely to be found.
Significant doubt has been cast on Inmarsat’s conclusions, however, and the company itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis is correct.
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The ATSB says that re-analysis of satellite imagery obtained on March 23, 2014, in an area close to the 7th arc has identified a range of objects that may be MH370 debris.
“This analysis complements the findings of the First Principles Review and identifies an area of less than 25,000 square kilometres which has the highest likelihood of containing MH370.”
Greg Hood, said that the final ATSB report demonstrated the extraordinary endeavours of people from around the world.
“This was an unprecedented endeavour and there has been an extraordinary response from the global community.
“There were contributions of expertise and resources from private business and organisations, agencies from different governments, and from private individuals.”
The CSIRO’s report “The search for MH370 and ocean surface drift – Part III”, which was published in June this year, and released in August, contains the conclusions of drift modelling of debris that has been found on the African mainland and on islands off the African coast.
In its Part 3 drift report, the CSIRO states that three of the images captured by a French military satellite just two weeks after MH370 disappeared contained nine, two and one objects, respectively, that were classified as “probably man-made” and 28 “possibly man-made” objects.
“The dimensions of these objects are comparable with some of the debris items that have washed up on African beaches and their location near the 7th arc makes them impossible to ignore,” the CSIRO said.
“But there is no evidence to confirm that any of these objects (let alone all) are pieces of 9M-MRO (the aircraft flying as MH370).”
Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong La, said at the remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur on March 4 this year that 25 pieces of debris had been found and analysed, and two more items had more recently been discovered in South Africa.
There had been confirmation that three pieces of debris belonged to MH370, Liow said, and five others were “almost certainly” from the plane. Further analysis would be carried out on the remaining items, he said.
The new ATSB report provides details of the initial, 52-day surface search and subsequent underwater search for MH370, which, it states, were the largest such searches in aviation history.
“In all, 661 areas of interest were identified in the sonar imagery of the seafloor. Of these areas, 82 with the most promise were investigated and eliminated as being related to MH370. Four shipwrecks were identified in the area searched.”
The report says the underwater search started with a bathymetry survey that continued, as required, throughout that search and mapped 710,000 square kilometres of Indian Ocean seafloor. It was the largest single hydrographic survey ever conducted.
“The high resolution sonar search covered an area in excess of 120,000 square kilometres, also the largest ever search or survey of its kind.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of people involved in the search from around the world, the aircraft has not been located.”
The report also includes a safety analysis, focused on the search, not the factors that may have led to MH370’s disappearance.
“The search, recovery and investigation of the loss of Air France flight AF447, in the South Atlantic Ocean in 2009, and the loss of MH370 have led to some important learnings related to locating missing aircraft on flights over deep ocean areas,” the report states.
“Requirements and systems for tracking aircraft have been enhanced and will continue to be enhanced. Steps are being taken to advance other aircraft systems including emergency locator transponders and flight recorder locator beacons.”
The report notes that there were no transmissions received from MH370 after the first 38 minutes of the flight.
“Systems designed to automatically transmit the aircraft’s position, including the transponder and the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system, failed to transmit the aircraft’s position after this time period.”
It states that MH370’s last position was positively fixed at the northern tip of Sumatra by
the surveillance systems operating on the night of the plane’s disappearance.
Greg Hood said that he hoped that those who had lost loved-ones on MH370 would be able to take some solace from the fact that the search teams did all they could do to find answers.
“Governments from around the world contributed to the search, with extraordinary expertise committed to the task.”
Malaysia’s transport minister says suspension of the underwater search was “not easy”, and the decision was not taken lightly or without sadness.
He says the Malaysian government’s aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned and the government remains “ever hopeful that we will be able to find answers when credible evidence becomes available”.
Relatives of those on board MH370, and American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, say, however, that such evidence is already in existence and should be acted upon right away.
“They must accept the Ocean Infinity offer and resume the search now,” Gibson said.
In an article published in the South China Morning Post on October 14, French journalist Florence de Changy, who has written a book entitled “Le vol MH370 n’a pas disparu” (Flight MH370 did not disappear), says that the ATSB’s final report “contains several oddities and red herrings”.
She refers to the statement that MH370’s last point of contact was north of Sumatra. This “contact”, she says, was only ever “confirmed” by one blurry slide, shown to some of the families in Beijing on March 21, 2014.
She also points to the report’s statement about MH370’s pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, flying a route on his home flight simulator “initially similar” to the one supposedly taken by MH370.
“The document the report bases this on has been dismissed as a clumsy fabrication based on several simulator routes flown by Shah, not one,” De Changy writes.
De Changy says the report’s handling of debris is also troubling.
“It publishes a drawing provided by Malaysia that shows about twenty pieces of debris found in the western Indian Ocean even though most of these pieces have not been confirmed as belonging to MH370 and several were found in questionable circumstances,” she writes.
De Changy says the ATBS report “also peddles a new myth” when it says “the reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found”.
She says that, even if the hull of MH370 and both black boxes were found, “the main information gained would be the route taken by the plane and whatever (if anything) was said in the cockpit during the last two hours of the flight”.
These clues, De Changy says, “are unlikely to provide a reason for the crash”.