MH370 four years on: investigating team’s new statement slammed as ‘perfunctory’

The international team investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 four years ago today has released a new interim statement that Chinese next-of-kin say is “perfunctory”.

The statement is just three pages long. It gives details about debris discoveries and refers briefly to search operations.

It says that the publication of the detailed investigation report has been suspended pending the outcome of the latest search effort, “since any new evidence uncovered is likely to significantly affect the investigation”.

It adds: “In the event that the aircraft is found, the team will conduct further investigation. If the aircraft is not found and a decision is made to discontinue the search, the team will resume the completion of the report and release it in the months ahead.”

Chinese next-of-kin went to the Foreign Office in Beijing to ask officials to convey their protest about the statement to the Malaysian government. They will also go this afternoon to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

There were 159 Chinese citizens on board MH370.

Jiang Hui, whose mother was on board MH370, says he is both disappointed and angry. Speaking on behalf of the Chinese next-of-kin, he said: “The international civil aviation convention requires statements to provide information about the work done during the year, but reports for successive years are only one to two pages long, which completely deprives us of the right to know.

“This is a violation of the Chicago convention.”

The Chinese relatives asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest to the Malaysian government about the perfunctory nature of the latest statement. They also want the Australian authorities to scrap plans to build an MH370 memorial in Perth.

The establishment of such monuments usually takes place only after a matter has come to an end, Jiang Hui says. “But so far we don’t know where our relatives are or where the plane is.”

Next-of-kin of those on board MH370 are united in their opposition to the memorial, not only because of the timing, but also because of the proposed location and the lack of consultation with relatives.

MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Neither the main wreckage of the plane nor its black box have been found despite a massive Australia-led underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean, which was suspended on January 17 last year.

A new search by the American private seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity is now underway in the southern Indian Ocean and is focused on a different search zone, north of the area scoured in the previous operation.

The fourth-anniversary interim statement, which was issued in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements¹, was released by the chief investigator from the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team, Kok Soo Chon.

The investigation team states that aircraft debris possibly from MH370 is still being discovered around the southeastern coast of the African continent and the adjacent islands.

“At the time of writing, as reported in the Interim Statement released in 2017, three items of debris remain as being confirmed from MH370, i.e. the right flaperon, a part of the right outboard flap and a section of the left outboard flap.

“A few other pieces of debris were determined to be almost certain from MH370 including some cabin interior items. There is continuing activity to retrieve and examine any new debris that is discovered.”

State-of-the-art technology

Ocean Infinity is using state-of-the-art technology to search a 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone identified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as being the most likely location of the missing plane.

The company is able to deploy up to eight Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), capable of operating in depths up to 6,000 metres.

It has signed a “no cure, no fee” contract with the Malaysian government under which it will receive up to $70 million if it finds MH370 within ninety days of starting its mission.

The 90-day period only comprises the days during which Ocean Infinity is actively searching and does not include time spent going to port to refuel.

The contract stated that, if MH370 was found in the first 5,000 square kilometres searched, Ocean Infinity would be paid $20 million.

The fee was to be $30 million if the plane was found within 10,000 square kilometres and it will be $50 million if MH370 is found within an area of 25,000 square kilometres.

If the plane is found outside of the 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone, Ocean Infinity will receive $70 million.

In its most recent update, Malaysia’s MH370 Response Team said 16,000 square kilometres had been searched as of March 4, and “no significant contacts” had been identified.

Seabed Constructor arrived at the search area on January 21 and launched the first AUV on January 22.


The 7th arc

Both the previous search zone, and the priority area currently being searched by Ocean Infinity are located along a 7th arc that was defined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat that were based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370.

Inmarsat said that MH370 was most likely to be found along this 7th arc, but there are those who have cast doubt on the company’s conclusions and Inmarsat itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis was correct.

American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, told Changing Times: “If the Inmarsat data is correct, I believe that, if they’re able to complete their planned search area from 35.6 degrees south all the way up to 29 degrees south, Ocean Infinity will find the plane.

“If they don’t find it, it probably means that something is wrong with the Inmarsat data or its interpretation.”

Gibson with debris found on an island in eastern Madagascar.

The previous Australia-led underwater search for MH370 was suspended after an area spanning 120,000 square kilometres was scoured in an operation that went on for 1,046 days. 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.

If MH370 is not found in the 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone, which stretches up to a latitude of 33 degrees south, the search is expected to continue into an adjacent area further north that has been identified by oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi from the University of Western Australia in Perth as the most likely crash location.

Gibson, who has collaborated closely with Pattiaratchi, says that, if the search in those first two zones is fruitless, the search will then be extended to an area further north favoured by other independent investigators.

Scientific analysis

Last year the government agency Geoscience Australia provided an analysis of satellite photos that were captured by a French military satellite on March 23, 2014. A range of objects are visible in the photos that have been identified as probably man-made.

Images taken by the PLEIADES 1A French military satellite over the Indian Ocean on March 23, 2014.

Given the objects’ proximity to the former underwater search area, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted a drift study to determine their geographic origin so as to provide an indication of where they were likely to have been on March 8, 2014.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the drift study found that the projected location on March 8 of the objects identified in most of the satellite images was consistent with the search area identified by experts during the MH370 “First Principles Review” meeting¹ in Canberra, Australia, in November 2016.

The Geoscience Australia and CSIRO findings backed up the ATSB’s conclusion at the November meeting that MH370’s location was likely to be north of the area that it spent more than two-and-a-half years searching.

In its drift report, part 3, the CSIRO states that three of the images captured by the French military satellite 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 report’s authors, David Griffin and Peter Oke, 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).”

Griffin and Oke specified the most likely MH370 crash site as 35.6°S, 92.8°E.

They said: “Other nearby … locations east of the 7th arc are also certainly possible, as are (with lower likelihood) a range of locations on the western side of the 7th arc, near 34.7°S 92.6°E and 35.3°S 91.8°E.”

Griffin and Oke said they had “a high degree of confidence” that an impact  in the southern half of the new search area proposed in 2016, near 35°S, “is more consistent with detection of debris in the Pleiades images than is an impact in the northern half”.

Charitha Pattiaratchi (pictured left) says Griffin and Oke’s confidence was misplaced. Ocean infinity has searched the area at 35°S and has found nothing,

Pattiaratchi favours a zone stretching from 33°S up to 28° S.

There is a European study that situates the most likely crash site between 28°S and 35°S.

Frenchman Ghyslain Wattrelos, whose wife Laurence and two of their three children were on board MH370, wants to know why it has taken so long to provide an analysis of images that were captured in March 2014. He says he suspects that the French government has information that it is not revealing.

Wattrelos recently published a book entitled Vol MH370, une vie détournée (Flight MH370, a life hijacked), co-authored with journalist Gaëlle Legenne.

He says he is convinced MH370 was shot down and has written to the French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron, asking what information France has about the disappearance of MH370.

French journalist Florence de Changy, who has written a book entitled “Le vol MH370 n’a pas disparu” (Flight MH370 did not disappear), 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.

The flaperon found on Reunion island in July 2015, which the French authorities say is from MH370.

Remembering those on board

Next-of-kin of passengers and crew on board MH370 gathered at a remembrance event at Publika in Kuala Lumpur on March 3. Their message was that MH370 was not history; it was the future for aviation safety.

Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother Anne Daisy was on board the missing plane,  said: “It’s very important in the interests of aviation safety that we find MH370 and prevent something like this from happening again.”

Speaking on behalf of Chinese next-of-kin, Jiang Hui (pictured left) said that, if Ocean Infinity doesn’t find the missing plane, a new search fund should be set up and the interest earned on the money in the fund should be used to finance further search operations.

He said that, if MH370 is not found during the current search operation, the Chinese next-of-kin would be urging the Malaysian government to put the $70 million pledged as payment for finding the plane into a new search fund.

This request was passed on to the Chinese Foreign Ministry today during the protest by the next-of-kin.

K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, talked on Saturday about the difficulties of moving on.

“For very many of us, the shock and horror, the pain, the grief, the anger and indignation, have been the source of solidarity and strength. The glue. It has been hard to give it up.”

Narendran said of today’s statement: “It fulfils a procedural requirement. It’s a bland non-event. It barely whets the appetite to know what the Annex 13 team has done in the past 12 months, what it has considered, and what it has ruled out.”

The statement, Narendran points out, says very little about the team’s stance vis-à-vis the suspension of the search in January 2017, and the non-resumption until nearly a year afterwards.

Narendran also raises the issue of the flaperon found on Reunion Island in July 2015. “Last known, it remains with France and no comprehensive report has been made public to date from that country or the investigating team.

“I wish the statement reflected the team’s thinking rather than simply its desire for safety.”

Why, Narendran asks, do affected families not have a more active role legitimised by clear provisions, and consequences for breaches of those provisions.

“It may be worth keeping in mind that they suffer, but are not weak; they are an affected party, not incidental. They deserve participation, not patronising.”

The air today, Narendran says, is suffused with a mix of caution and positivity as relatives follow the ongoing search and weigh up how likely it is that MH370 will be found.

For some of the relatives of those on board the plane, dealing with their loss and grief is getting harder, not easier, as time passes. There are those, for instance, who have young children and are having to explain that a relative was one of the passengers or a member of the crew.

Jiang Hui says he has only recently started to tell his seven-year-old daughter what happened to her grandmother.

The father of one of the MH370 passengers told the New Straits Times recently that his seven-year-old grandchild, P. Varmer, was still unaware of the disappearance of his father, S.Puspanathan.

G. Subramaniam said: “My family does not have the heart to tell him the truth. Instead, we made up a story that Puspanathan is away at work.”

Danica Weeks from Australia, whose husband Paul was a passenger on MH370, and who has two young sons, Lincoln and Jack, posted a poem on Facebook today that speaks of her heartache, her wait for answers, and the relatives’ right to the truth.

Malaysia says it remains committed to finding MH370

Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, issued a statement yesterday in which he said Malaysia’s commitment to the families of those on board MH370 remained steadfast.

“Four years may have passed, but the memories of the passengers and crew on board will always be with all of us and they will be remembered dearly not only by the families but also by Malaysians and the world community,” Liow said.

“Not a single day passed without us hoping and praying that we can find answers to this tragedy as we owe it to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board MH370.”

Liow said Ocean Infinity’s mission involved a total of 65 crew on board including two personnel from the Royal Malaysian Navy as the Malaysian government’s representatives.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, posted on Facebook today: “Four years have passed since the tragic disappearance of MH370, but the passengers and crew who were on the plane that fateful day remain in our prayers and in our hearts.

“As the latest search we commissioned shows, we remain committed to finding MH370 and discovering the fate of those on board.

“Until then, we are committed to honouring them by pushing the global aviation community to take many necessary measures to make our skies safer, ensuring that such a tragedy never takes place again.”


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Media hype

The anniversary of the disappearance of MH370 has inevitably been marked by media hype and speculation, including groundless punditry that points the finger at the MH370 pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Most of the media have, over the past week, been fixated on when the new search will end. After the remembrance event in KL, most coverage focused on the Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia (CAAM) chairman, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, saying that the search was expected to end in mid-June. One American journalist, citing an unnamed source, later said that the search was on track to finish at the end of April. Ocean Infinity says it will end in mid-April, which is well within the agreed 90 days.

The weather is an important factor, however. It has been mostly favourable during the search so far, but it can be very rough in the stretch of ocean being scoured. And there is always the possibility that MH370 could be found before the 90-day period is over. It is somewhat surprising, given Rahman’s comments on Saturday, that Ocean Infinity is being so definitive about when its operation will finish.

Britain’s Daily Star jumped on an interview published on with a retired fighter pilot, Jock Williams, who was a former safety inspector for Transport Canada. The Star ran a story based on total supposition headlined “Missing MH370 was ‘BROUGHT DOWN by someone on-board”.

Williams is quoted as surmising that the perpetrator was most likely to be the pilot or the co-pilot.

Blaine Gibson is outraged by the continued media focus on the “rogue pilot” theory. He says that anyone who continues to promote the theory “should be ashamed of themselves”.

There is no evidence to support the pilot murder-suicide scenario, Blaine says. “In fact, there is a lot of evidence to contradict it. The debris evidence contradicts it.”

The wing flap found on the Tanzanian island of Pemba in June 2016 was retracted, Gibson points out. “It was not deployed. If this were a controlled suicide-glide ditching to hide the plane forever, that wing flap would have been deployed.”

The pilot, co-pilot and crew and passengers have been cleared by two separate independent criminal investigations in Malaysia and France, Gibson points out.

The wing flap found on Pemba Island, east of Tanzania, which the Malaysian authorities say has been confirmed to be from MH370.

There is still talk on social media of the plane being allegedly shot down by the US 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.

Indian electrical engineer S. Dwarakanathan, meanwhile, believes that MH370 crashed into the jungle on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

In a lawsuit filed in South Carolina in the United States last year against Boeing, the plaintiffs allege that there were a series of catastrophic electrical and other failures on board MH370.

They claimed that an electrical fire caused MH370 to depressurise, and the crew became incapacitated.

The plaintiffs allege that Boeing knew about design flaws on the 777 aircraft, including defective wiring near combustible sources like the emergency oxygen supply to the plane’s crew.

They say that “the disappearance and crash of MH370 was caused or partially caused by defects in the design, manufacture and/or assembly of the aircraft”.

Earlier interim reports

The first interim report about MH370 is 584 pages long. It revealed that the battery on the beacon of MH370’s flight data recorder expired more than a year before the plane disappeared.

The document contains extremely detailed technical information, but gives no clue as to what might have happened to the plane.

The second interim statement is just three pages long, and revealed no new conclusions.

The third interim statement presented no fresh evidence or conclusions, but pointed to tests done on wing parts found in Reunion and Tanzania that the Malaysian government says have been confirmed to have come from MH370.

The third statement refers to the examination of the flaperon found on Reunion Island and the right outboard flap found on Pemba and says this has led to the conclusion that the flaps were “most likely” in the retracted position.

Experts say that this means that there would not have been a controlled ditching of MH370.

Link to first interim statement

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 accredited representatives from air accident and incident investigation organisations in Malaysia, Australia, China, France, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Update 9/3/2018

In a statement issued today, the MH370 family support group Voice370 said the families remained hopeful that the plane would be found during the current search, and that eventually they would have answers.

“We believe that finding MH370 and understanding why we lost it in the first instance is of crucial significance to safety in civil aviation of the future.”

Voice370 urged the Malaysian government to make public as early as possible its plans for the recovery, handling, safe keeping, and investigation of debris if located in the search area.

“We call upon the Annex 13 Investigation team, the ATSB, and other independent bodies to participate actively to ensure that the rules framed for debris recovery are fair, efficient, and ensure scientific rigour.

“Furthermore, we ask that investigation protocols underline independence of the investigators.”

Voice 370 said the families were grateful to people across the world for
the support, goodwill, and solidarity that they continued to receive.