The American seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity, which spent three months searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, has ended its mission in the southern Indian Ocean.
Seabed Constructor – the vessel Ocean Infinity leased for the search – is now heading for the port of Dampier in northwestern Australia.
The company’s “No Cure No Fee” contract with the Malaysian government ended on May 29, but Ocean Infinity continued to scour the ocean depths with its state-of-the-art Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and only brought its search to an end early yesterday morning (Friday), local time.
The weather in the southern Indian Ocean will be too rough up until about November for any further underwater searches to be carried out.
MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board when en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Not a trace of the plane was found during the lengthy searches in the southern Indian Ocean – initially by an Australian-led team. The only debris discovered that is believed to have come from MH370 has been found off the coast of Africa.
The Australia-led search went on for 1,046 days and was suspended on January 17 last year. An area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres was scoured.
Ocean Infinity has searched, and collected data from, an area far in excess of the initial 25,000-square-kilometre target. The company has not yet made a final announcement about the total area searched, but it is estimated to be at least 125,000 square kilometres.
Ocean Infinity’s chief executive, Oliver Plunkett, said in a statement on May 29 that it was “with a heavy heart” that the company was ending its operation without having found MH370.
“I would firstly like to extend the thoughts of everyone at Ocean Infinity to the families of those who have lost loved ones on MH370,” Plunkett said.
“Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected. It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim.”
By May 29, the company had already searched more than 112,000 square kilometres of ocean floor.
The failure of Ocean Infinity to find MH370 is disappointing and frustrating for the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew who were on board the plane, for Ocean Infinity itself and its search team, and for investigators who remain convinced that the plane went down close to a 7th arc that was determined after analysis of satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370.
The calculations were made by the British company Inmarsat.
There are investigators who doubt the validity of the Inmarsat data and believe that MH370 never reached the southern Indian Ocean. Others continue to have faith in the data, but question the deductions that have been made.
Now that its mission is completed, Ocean Infinity will submit its report to the Malaysian Ministry of Transport. That report will then go to the Malaysian International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370, whose members will then compile their final report.
In a statement issued on May 30, Malaysia’s transport minister, Anthony Loke Siew Fook, urged the Malaysian-led Annex 13 team – which also comprises accredited representatives from air accident and incident investigation organisations in Australia, China, France, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States – “to finalise the MH370 final report in the near future”. Loke said he hoped the report would be published by July.
Families call for further investigation
The next-of-kin of those on board MH370 are calling for new disclosures and further investigation.
On May 23, the family support group Voice370 issued a statement urging the new Malaysian government to include the following as part of its agenda in the ensuing100 days:
- a comprehensive review of all matters related to the disappearance of MH370, especially the release of all relevant documents such as the full cargo manifest;
- an investigation into any possible falsification and or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance; and
- a further investigation and inquiry into any act or omission across the entire spectrum of operations that may have impaired tracking, search, rescue, and recovery.
Grace Subathirai Nathan (pictured left), whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on board the missing plane, says the Malaysian government should leave the door open for other companies to search for MH370 at their own expense, with an agreement that they would be paid if they found the plane.
“In the interim we should just go back to the drawing board and see if there is anything that has been missed. The fact that this state-of-the-art search has come up empty-handed has raised a lot more questions that we should really be taking seriously,” Nathan, who is a spokeswoman for Voice370, told BFM radio.
The sister of MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Dah Ahmadshah, says she hopes Loke will look at details that she says have been ignored in the official investigation into the disappearance of MH370.
“He needs to ensure all the eye witnesses’ reports from Terengganu and Kelantan and their sworn statements are included,” she said.
Dah says Loke needs to consider the statements by Katherine Tee, a British woman who was sailing from India to Thailand with her husband when she saw what appeared to be a large aircraft on fire on the morning that MH370 disappeared; locals in the Maldives who say they saw a low-flying jet that fit the description of MH370 on the same day; data provided by the independent investigator, Sergio Cavaiuolo; and raw data from air traffic control and MH370 – “the unedited version, not photocopies”.
It has been alleged that audio communication from the MH370 cockpit and Air Traffic Control in Kuala Lumpur that occurred before the plane disappeared, which was released in April 2014, was tampered with. Dah wants this to be further investigated. The investigating team has not properly addressed this and other important questions, she says.
Request for documents to be declassified
Five next-of-kin of three of the passengers on board MH370 have sent a request to Anthony Loke seeking his help in obtaining the declassification of documents about MH370 that have been sealed under the Official Secrets Act.
In a letter sent via the legal firm Ngeow and Tan, the relatives of Tan Ah Meng, his wife Chuang Hsiu Ling, and their eldest son, Tan Wei Chew, say that they are asking for five classified documents to be released.
They are requesting the declassification of the transcript of communications between MH370 and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). They also want to obtain the letter of agreement between Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia about search and rescue operations, government minutes of meetings with relevant agencies, internal memos, and a search and rescue report.
The letter, dated June 7, says the documents are needed for a civil lawsuit filed by the children and parents of Tan Ah Meng and Chuang Hsiu Ling.
The next-of-kin are suing three parties for alleged negligence: Malaysia Airlines; Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, who, at the time of the disappearance of MH370 was director-general of the DCA (now known as the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia); and the Malaysian government.
‘Raw data should be released’
Netherlands-based journalist Mick Rooney, who has followed the investigation into the disappearance of MH370 from Day 1, says the Malaysian government now needs to provide the following:
- the recorded screen capture of the raw Primary Surveillance Radar (PSR) data that the Malaysian military captured in the early hours of March 8, 2014, and
- all of the back-up documentation relating to the consignment of Motorola equipment that was on board MH370, including the certification of transport safety issued by the factory, information about which Unit Load Devices were used, and how the shipment was packed and loaded into containers.
A total 2.2 tonnes of MH370’s cargo were initially said to be lithium batteries, but were later described as “radio accessories and chargers”.
Rooney says that the government also needs to make available all of the airport security video that was captured just prior to, and during, the boarding of flight MH370 along with transport documentation about the movements of the 9M-MRO Boeing 777 aircraft when and after it reached the arrival gate in KL International Airport on the morning of March 7.
The aircraft was reportedly moved from the arrival gate and taken to a holding area at the airport about half a kilometre away, then was taken back to a departure gate in the evening.
Rooney also says the full Royal Malaysian Police criminal report on the MH370 investigation should be released along with information about what Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government have done to tighten security and procedures following the International Civil Aviation Organisation ‘s damning report about the Search and Rescue mission, published after its hearing in 2015.
The Annex 13 safety team and the Royal Malaysian Police also need to give full explanations about the statements they collected from eyewitnesses in multiple time zones, and any investigations conducted in relation to those statements, and give specific reasons why those witness accounts were discounted, Rooney says.
“They need to go beyond simply stating that the Inmarsat data was the sole reason for exclusion.”
Rooney says there is nothing wrong with the Inmarsat data. “What is wrong,” he said, “is the early assumptions imposed on it and what has been drawn from it, specifically the Burst Frequency Offset values.”
The Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) is the difference between the frequency that is expected and the one that is actually measured. This difference is the result of the Doppler effect, which is the name given to the difference between the frequency at which sound or light waves leave a source and that at which they reach an observer. The difference is caused by the relative motion of the observer and the wave source.
An example is the way that the sound of a passing car changes as it approaches and passes by.
In the case of an aircraft, the BFO changes depending on its location on an arc of possible positions, its direction of travel, and its speed.
The Inmarsat experts analysed the difference between the frequency that the satellite ground station expected to receive from MH370 and the one that was actually measured and came up with the 7th arc.
Inmarsat checked its predictions using information obtained from six other B777 aircraft flying on the same day in various directions. “There was good agreement,” the then acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said at the time.
Rooney says early assumptions need to be re-examined: whether the autopilot was on or off, which heading mode the aircraft was in when it went south, and which technical factors on the aircraft (electrical factors, temperature, and human behaviour, for instance) may have impacted the plane’s final route and possibly altered the data values captured in the satellite handshakes.
“We cannot reach any priorities for the future until all this is looked at again,” Rooney said. If there are no changes in the conclusions, he says, an area further off the 7th arc, from 45°S to 25°S, would have to be searched.
“But that could amount to an area spanning between 500,000 and one million square kilometres, and would take years.”
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Future search options
Victor Iannello from the MH370 Independent Group of investigators wrote in his blog yesterday that, if Ocean Infinity were to conduct another search for MH370, the options included the following:
- scanning along the 7tharc at latitudes north of 25°S;
- scanning along the 7tharc at previously searched latitudes, but at a greater distance perpendicular to the arc; and
- re-scanning areas where the detection of the debris field might have been missed.
“Ultimately, the decision where to search must consider other aspects such as end-of-flight dynamics, drift modelling, surface search efforts, and fuel consumption, none of which were considered here,” Iannello wrote.
Iannello said he was not intending to recommend where to search next, but was aiming to provoke discussion about the possibility of an automated flight ending much further north on the 7th arc than was previously considered.
His proposition is that MH370 may have flown on autopilot past Cocos Island and reached latitude 22°S.
Theories still abound
There are a vast number of theories about what happened to MH370. They include the suggestion that the plane was hijacked so that it could be used for a false flag operation.
There is one theory that the plane was hijacked by remote control. The Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad – who disappointed next-of-kin last week when he said that the search for MH370 could not go on forever – has said that he considers this theory to be plausible.
Mahathir said last Wednesday that, if any new information was found, the search for MH370 might be resumed but, added that “at the moment we have to put a stop to the search”.
He said: “We regret it very much and we understand the feelings of the relatives, but we cannot keep on searching for this 370 for ever.”
Frenchman Ghyslain Wattrelos, whose wife Laurence and two of their three children were on board MH370, 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 plane’s disappearance.
Wattrelos recently published a book entitled Vol MH370, une vie détournée (Flight MH370, a life hijacked), co-authored with journalist Gaëlle Legenne.
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 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.
Numerous authors and journalists continue to blame Zaharie, alleging that he purposely ditched the plane. It is a theory that is not backed up by evidence. To the contrary, there is in evidence that the plane was not ditched by someone at the controls. The wing flap found on the Tanzanian island of Pemba in June 2016, which is believed to be from MH370, was retracted, for instance.
American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, says that if there had been a controlled suicide-glide ditching, that wing flap would have been deployed.
Zaharie, his co-pilot, the rest of the crew, and the passengers on board MH370 have all been cleared by two separate independent criminal investigations in Malaysia and France.
Gibson says that, now the underwater search is over, the focus should be on surface debris and the new Malaysian government’s investigation into documents and records.
Investigating team’s statements
In the fourth-anniversary interim statement about the search for MH370, which was issued on March 8 this year in accordance with ICAO requirements¹, the investigating team stated that aircraft debris possibly from MH370 was 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,” the statement said.
“A few other pieces of debris were determined to be almost certain from MH370 including some cabin interior items.”
The Chinese next-of-kin described the statement, which is just three pages long, as “perfunctory”.
They say that a final report should not be being released yet.
Speaking on behalf of Chinese relatives, Jiang Hui (pictured left) says there has been no official ending of the search, that the governments of Malaysia, Australia, and China have so far only officially suspended it, and that those governments need to agree that the search is over before a final report can be released.
“In a meeting with my family in China on April 19 this year, the Malaysian government promised to continue its investigation into what happened to MH370,” Jiang Hui said. “They agreed that the report following the Ocean Infinity search would not be their ‘Final Report’.”
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.
Seabed Constructor update:
Further update 21/6/2018:
In a recent interview with Mick Rooney on Radio Espial, airline pilot and flight instructor Juanda Ismail said that this was not the time to be producing a final report about MH370.
“I think it’s way too early to have a final report because we don’t know what happened to the plane,” Juanda said.
Juanda says more information needs to be disclosed, including information about MH370’s cargo manifest.
He says that, after MH370’s apparent second turn, which took it to the northwest towards the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca, there were about 38 different course changes in a stretch of some 35 nautical miles as the plane headed up the Malacca Strait. That, Juanda said, would indicate that the plane was not on automatic pilot.
Those track changes, Juanda told Rooney, could mean that the plane was being controlled manually by someone flying it in an abrupt way with no real idea of where they were going, or that no one was in control of the aircraft.
It seemed, Juanda said, as if the plane was just meandering up the Malacca Strait.
If there was pilot incapacitation, that was probably where it would have started to happen, Juanda says.
Juanda says that, of all the possible sightings of MH370 that have been reported, the sighting by sailor Katherine Tee is the one in which he would have the most confidence. This was because of its timing and a possibility that the plane was descending at that point at about 2,500 feet per minute and, therefore, could have been seen from the sea.
He also spoke during the interview about the reported sightings in the Maldives. If those were sightings of MH370, Juanda says, then the Inmarsat data has to be incorrect because it has the plane going in a completely different direction. It is, Juanda says, a case of one or the other. If the Inmarsat data was correct, then the sightings in the Maldives were not of MH370.
Juanda has done a fuel analysis based on the “holding configuration” for the aircraft that shows that the Maldives sightings at about 6.15 a.m. local time could have been of MH370. According to the Inmarsat data, the plane would already have run out of fuel before then, but, according to Juanda’s analysis, it could have flown on until about 6.25 a.m. Maldives time.
Juanda also talked about the significance of the Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) data at 18:40 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on the day MH370 disappeared.
It has been widely accepted that the BFO data at 18:40 UTC indicated a turn to the south, which would put MH370 on a course to the southern Indian Ocean, but this would be on the assumption that the aircraft maintained a constant altitude.
Now, Juanda says, it appears that the aircraft was flown without the autopilot engaged from the time it turned back from waypoint IGARI.
“Without the autopilot engaged and altitude hold selected, I don’t believe we can assume the aircraft was at a constant altitude at 18:40 UTC,” Juanda explained in a post on Facebook.
The other deduction that can be made about the 18:40 BFO data is that MH370 was descending at 2,500 feet per minute, Juanda wrote. “With this rate of descent, MH370 would very easily be at an altitude from which Kate [Tee] could make the sighting.
“If you recall Kate’s sighting, she described seeing the aircraft having an orange glow and bright lights coming from the cockpit. The aircraft also appears to have smoke trailing from behind.
“For Kate to be able to see the lights of the cockpit would suggest the aircraft was at a low altitude. At a guess, I would estimate this height to be around 2,000 feet and definitely no higher than 3,000 feet.”
Juanda is critical of the way the initial disappearance of MH370 from civilian radar was handled. When MH370 didn’t check on with Ho Chi Minh City Air Traffic Control, the first phase of trying to locate the aircraft should have started within five minutes, Juanda said. “That wasn’t undertaken.”
He also says that the discovery of small pieces of debris that are believed to have come from the interior of the missing plane suggest that there was a high energy impact when the plane went down and that the plane was most likely not controlled at the time it crashed.
Juanda believes that MH370 had a major mechanical failure of some sort.
He wrote on Facebook: “The key to the nature of this mechanical failure is what happened at 18:25 UTC when MH370’s SATCOM initiated a logon request to the GES [ground station] in Perth.”
There was a normal logon request at 16:00 UTC before the flight, Juanda says, but the logon request at 18.25 was abnormal in that the flight ID was missing.
“So, whatever the mechanical failure was, it prevented the flight ID from being transmitted with the logon request at 18:25 UTC. If we could somehow reproduce this fault in a test environment, we may then have some idea of the cause of the mechanical failure,” he wrote in his Facebook post.
In an article on his website, Juanda says he thinks that Captain Zaharie tried to land at Penang International Airport, but was unsuccessful.
The evidence for the attempt to go to Penang is, Juanda says, provided by the primary surveillance radar data from Kota Bharu and Butterworth.
Juanda says that three definitive events suggest strongly that there was an attempt to land on runway four at Penang airport:
- MH370 tracked directly over the waypoint ENDOR, which is in line with standard arrival procedure,
- it also tracked directly over a point from which a course reversal procedure could be flown to enable it to line up with Penang airport’s runway four, and
- it turned right on a track of 267◦ Magnetic to commence the required course reversal procedure.