MH370: six years on, next of kin call for the search to resume

Next of kin of passengers and crew who were on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 when it disappeared six years ago gathered at a remembrance event today in Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, and urged the Malaysian government to authorise a new search for the plane.

“We hope that we don’t have to keep commemorating MH370 in a search-on perspective,” said Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on board the missing plane. “We hope to find MH370 soon and bring closure and bring answers and bring safer skies to everyone.

“We still want the search to go on, even though it’s been six years, because we honestly and truly believe that, more than our loss and our pain, this is important for the general flying public.”

Relatives and friends of the MH370 passengers and crew, and members of the media, gathered at the Putrajaya Marriott Hotel for the invitation-only event, which was live streamed on Facebook.

The next of kin decided that, because of concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus Covid 19, there would not be a public remembrance event this year.

Two videos made by the Chinese next of kin were shown at today’s event, there were musical and dance performances, and the goddaughter and grandson of Patrick Gomes, who was an in-flight supervisor on MH370, both read out poems.

Next of kin in China marked MH370’s disappearance with a separate live broadcast.

Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. The plane was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

While some debris has been found that experts say is from the missing plane, neither MH370 nor its voice and data recorders have been located.

The disappearance of MH370 has previously been marked at the remembrance events by the lighting of candles, but this year the next of kin created a board of 239 stars carrying the names of those lost.

The relatives have also named an actual star and registered it as “Loved Ones MH370”.

The wife of Patrick Gomes, Jacquita Gonzales, explained: “This year we decided to name a star; a new star; a light in the sky; a remembrance of our loved ones that will shine on us forever.

“The star is a symbol of hope. Our star is our gesture of hope that MH370 will be found.”

Gonzales explained that the star is in the Carina constellation in the southern sky. It is part of the “heavenly waters” constellation. Carina is Latin for the hull or keel of a ship, and it was the southern foundation of the larger constellation Argo Navis until that constellation was divided into three pieces. It contains the star Canopus, which is the second-brightest star in the sky.

Numerous pieces of debris were on display today and Aslam Basha Khan, who is a former senior investigator with Malaysia’s Air Accident Investigation Bureau, told those gathered about the examination and identification of such pieces as the wing flap found on Pemba Island, Tanzania, by fishermen in June 2016.

Khan said: “I am again saying the search must go on until we find this aeroplane. If we don’t find the wreckage we will never know what actually happened.

“I’m no longer at the ministry, but I don’t know what’s taking them so long to make a decision on an offer they have to search on. If we don’t search, we’ll never find it.”

Former Malaysian transport minister Anthony Loke Siew told those gathered in Putrajaya today that a Cabinet paper had been ready for Cabinet endorsement when the government suddenly changed last month.

The Cabinet paper had been due to be tabled on February 26, but, given the change of government, it is not now known when that paper will be presented for endorsement.

Loke said that all the lawyers for the families of those on board MH370 had agreed to a “global sum of settlement to withdraw or settle the legal cases out of court”. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had approved the document, he said.

Cabinet endorsement would have allowed the financial settlement to be made. The money would not only go to those who took legal action against the Malaysian government but would also be used to top up the payments made to relatives who had previously accepted compensation from Malaysia Airlines, but had received less than the sum now being offered.

Loke said he regretted that he had been unable to bring financial relief to the families.

“I will not give up. I promise that once the Cabinet is formed and we know who is the minister of transport who will succeed me … I will personally go to see him and appeal to him to continue to bring that paper to Cabinet and to get Cabinet’s approval.”

The Ministry of Transport secretary-general Isham Ishak said he had submitted a request to meet the new prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, next week to present the Cabinet paper to him.

Jiang Hui, who represents the Chinese next of kin, and was unable to come to Malaysia for the 6th anniversary event, told Changing Times that he was extremely angry that Loke did not fulfil the promises he made in March last year.

Jiang Hui says Loke promised to organise a Chinese translation of the full report produced by Malaysian International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370, and released in July 2018, and to send Malaysian government officials to China to meet with the next of kin there.

Chinese next of kin were outraged when they discovered that the investigation team’s report had not been translated into Chinese. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has written to the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia asking for a translation to be provided.

Anthony Loke (right) with Jiang Hui at last year’s remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur.

Lead investigator Kok Soo Chon said when the report was released that the investigating team was “unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370”.

Kok Soo Chon said the remit of the investigation team was limited to matters of safety and, during the media briefing about the report, there were no answers to questions about the search for the plane.

The report is nearly 1,500 pages long and is made up of a main document totalling 495 pages and six separate appendices.

One of the Chinese next of kin, Li Eryou, whose son Li Yanlin was on MH370, said in a video shown at today’s event that the Chinese relatives had had no information from the Malaysian government since the investigation team was disbanded at the end of December 2018. Li Eryou said that the difficulties in communicating with the Malaysian authorities made him very confused and angry.

He said the search for the plane must go on and officials from the Malaysian government should meet the Chinese next of kin as soon as possible.

Jiang Hui said in a separate video that, ironically, he had begun to miss the year when MH370 disappeared: “a year full of hope, love, and fortitude, and inspiration supported by efforts from all over the world”.

Six years later, Jiang Hui says, the world had turned into one filled with “buck passing, cruelty, and indifference under the control of political games and the lure of money”.

He said he put his hope in the new Malaysian government. He urged the Malaysian authorities to put into place a responsible and practical search-and-investigation plan so that MH370 could be found as quickly as possible. A new no find, no fee search was the best option, he said. This, he said “would be a way to restore our families’ trust in the Malaysian government”.

Putting together life’s fragmented pieces

Grace Subathirai Nathan told those gathered in Putrajaya that many of the next of kin were beginning to put together the very fragmented pieces of their lives.

“It’s an extraordinary feat that we are all still here. It’s been six years and MH370 is still missing and it is with great sadness that I stand here today to welcome all of you to commemorate another year since MH370 went missing,” Nathan said.

“The pain is still the same, the fact that the plane is still missing is still the same, and the fact that we don’t know what happened to the plane is still the same. “

The next of kin remained resolved to push for the search to continue until MH370 is found, Nathan added. “In that we are united and in that we have hope and in that we are working together constantly, even against the tide, in order to keep the search going.”

Nathan said that, depending on how you look at it, six years can either be a very short time or a very long time.

For the next of kin of those on board MH370, it’s a long time, Nathan said: “a very, very long time for us to still be waiting for our loved ones”.

One of the sons of one of the next of kin – Mohammad, the son of one of the stewards on board MH370, Mohammad Hazrin Hasnan – was not born when MH370 disappeared and now he is going to school, Nathan said.

“I think about myself and I had not become a lawyer yet when the plane disappeared. And now I’m about to get married. When you look back, so many things have changed in six years.

“A lot of people tell us to let go and move on. But we cannot move on because we don’t know what happened. All we can do is go on with our lives, taking one step at a time.”

Speaking about the debris on display today Nathan said: “The debris in this room is all that we have of a huge Boeing Triple Seven … As costly as it has been, the entire search for MH370 thus far has cost less than a single, brand new Boeing Triple Seven.”

There are still more questions than there are answers and that shouldn’t be the case after six years, Nathan told reporters after the event.

Grace Subathirai Nathan handing a piece of debris over to Malaysia’s transport minister in November 2018.

Pralhad Shirsath pictured with his wife Kranti, who was a passenger on MH370.

Pralhad Shirsath from Pune in India, whose wife Kranti was on MH370, was at the remembrance event with one of his two sons, Rahul.

Rahul said that every day the family hoped that they would get answers to their questions about the disappearance of MH370. To the background of photos of his mother and father, Rahul struggled as he spoke of how much Kranti was missed and how he, as a then 16-year-old, battled to try and understand what was happening at the time of the plane’s disappearance.

He said that none of his mother’s belongings had been moved. Everything of Kranti’s has been left the same as when she took the fateful flight on the way to visit her husband in North Korea.

Pralhad Shirsath spoke about how fragmented his life had been after MH370 disappeared, how he had not felt able to attend the previous remembrance events, and how only last year he had started to do outside work again. Previously he had been simply doing farming and looking after his sons.

The relatives had been “crying for truth” for six years now, he said, yet there was still no closure. Answers were needed not only for the families, Pralhad Shirsath said, but for the global community as a whole. “If people don’t get answers, it is likely that one more plane will be missing soon,” he said.

‘Without credible answers, the swirl of conspiracy will not go away easily’

Narendran at last year’s remembrance event with Jacquita Gonzales and her granddaughter Alessandra Faith.

A message was conveyed to today’s gathering by K.S. Narendran from Chennai in India, whose wife Chandrika was on board the missing plane. He was also unable to attend this year’s event.

Narendran, who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, said that the disappearance of MH370 pointed to gaps or flaws in one or all of the following – systems, technology, infrastructure, and human capability.

“There is vulnerability that we don’t fully understand yet,” he said. “We need work on this. Locating the plane is critical to this task. Full disclosure supports this task.

“Without credible answers, the swirl of conspiracy and accusations of falsehood and cover-up will not go away easily. To those who know more, if indeed there are those, I say to you that truth is a higher power than duty or loyalty to man and country.”

Narendran added: “Six years have gone by since MH370 was last heard from or seen. For us, time stood still and life was in ‘limbo’; we added years faster, either maturing doubly quick or declining at a rapid rate. At any rate, life was and never will be the same again.

“Six years is a long time. Many of us are now piecing together the fragments of a shattered existence that resembles in part what was, but also with new elements – new people and relationships, new places, new pursuits – signifying a resolute and courageous willingness to not let the void we experience draw everything into it and leave us feeling empty and bereft.”

‘New search should be authorised’

Not a trace of MH370 was found during lengthy searches in the southern Indian Ocean – initially by an Australian-led team.

The Australia-led search went on for 1,046 days and was suspended on January 17, 2017. An area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres was scoured.

The American seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity then searched, and collected data from, an area spanning more than 112,000 square kilometres, which was far in excess of the initial 25,000-square-kilometre target.

Ocean Infinity spent just over three months searching for MH370 and ended its mission in June 2018.

There is currently no official search ongoing and the Malaysian government says it will not authorise another search without having what it refers to as new “credible leads”.

American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, told Changing Times that there is new credible evidence and there is analysis that points to areas where the plane may be. If Ocean Infinity is willing to search again on a no-find, no- fee basis then “there is absolutely no reason or excuse for the Malaysian government not to resume the search”, Gibson says.

Gibson was referring to new radar evidence and new analysis by members of the MH370 Independent Group of investigators, who have identified three areas they say should be searched.

Gibson was not in Malaysia for this year’s remembrance event as he needed to be in the United States to vote in the Washington state presidential election primary.

“We must not forget about MH370 and the 239 people on board whose families need answers. We need to keep remembering, and find out what happened to this plane,” he said.

“I have not forgotten. I will not forget. I will not give up. I just need to focus on something else right now that’s very important to my country.”

Debris from Madagascar

Gibson wants to know why the Malaysian authorities have not released a report about two pieces of debris that were delivered to them in September last year and are believed to be from MH370. One of the pieces is a fragment of an aircraft’s vortex generator baseplate.

The debris was found washed ashore in September 2016 by two local fishermen in Madagascar. It was found at Antongil Bay, Maroantsetra Beach, and was handed over to the authorities in Madagascar on August 16, 2017.

The then honorary Malaysian consul in Madagascar, Zahid Raza, had been due to collect the debris and deliver it to the Malaysian government by DHL, but he was gunned down in the centre of the island nation’s capital, Antananarivo, in an apparent assassination on August 24, 2017, just before he was due to pick up the debris.

The two pieces of debris were held in Madagascar for two years during the investigation into Zahid Raza’s murder.

“One of the pieces is just some cabin debris, which doesn’t really tell us anything new,” Gibson said. “But an in-depth analysis of the vortex generator baseplate is important. If it is analysed thoroughly, and it is from MH370, we can learn a lot about how the plane and the engine impacted the water.

“Since September, we’ve heard nothing about it from the Malaysian government. The Independent Group analysed it from photos and identified it as being a baseplate on the fin on a Boeing 777 engine.”

Gibson says that, if the baseplate is indeed from MH370, it can indicate how hard the plane impacted the water.

“The piece shattered and split off so it would be additional evidence that the plane impacted the water very hard, and it could tell us something about the angle that the plane hit the water, and how fast it was moving.”

Gibson says he is hopeful that there will be a renewed search. “I have not given up, but there isn’t much more that I can do. We need to get the search started again. We need to find the crash site and hopefully recover the black boxes so as to solve this mystery.”

New pieces of debris that wash ashore and are found aren’t going to change the equation very much, Gibson says. “No one piece of debris is going to tell us exactly where MH370 crashed.”

The vortex generator baseplate was on display at today’s event, and was referred to by Aslam Basha Khan. However, nothing was said about what examination of the piece has revealed.

Blaine Gibson (right) and Nick Connite with the vortex generator baseplate and cabin debris found in Madagascar.

In all, more than thirty pieces of debris have been examined by the Malaysian authorities and three of them have been confirmed to be from MH370. Five pieces were handed over to Anthony Loke in November 2018 and the investigating team concluded that one of them – a piece of floor panelling from a from a passenger cabin – was “likely” to be from MH370.

The team concluded that the other four pieces handed in in November were “not identifiable”.

The only debris that is said to be from MH370 has been retrieved on the African mainland and on islands off the African coast.

The full investigation team report states that items of debris possibly from MH370 have been found as far north as the eastern coast of Tanzania and as far south as the eastern coast of South Africa.

It says that this is “in addition to several islands and island nations off the east coast of the African continent”.

Of these items of debris, the flaperon that was found on Reunion island, and is still in the possession of the French authorities, a part of the right outboard flap, and a section of the left outboard flap were confirmed to be from MH370, the report states.

The report states that 27 significant pieces of debris had been recovered and examined at the time the report was produced.

In addition to the three pieces confirmed to be from MH370, seven pieces, including some cabin interior items, had been determined to be “almost certainly” from the plane. The report says that eight pieces of debris are “highly likely” to be from MH370 and one piece is “likely” to be from the plane. Eight pieces of debris were not identifiable.

Raw military data

Gibson also says the Malaysian government should finally release the raw military radar data from the night MH370 disappeared.

“After six years, releasing the raw military radar data that relates to one night – from Malaysia, a country that is not at war – is not going to do any harm at all to the country’s national security.

“They need to release that raw radar data because the analysts can use it to determine the altitude and speed of the plane and it may be able to give them a better idea of where the plane actually made that final turn south and an idea of how it was being flown.”

Gibson says that civilian radar data that came to light recently enabled the Independent Group to tell how fast and high MH370 was flying.

“The plane was flying pretty high,” Gibson said. “That’s useful information. The military radar data would also provide some very useful information to independent analysts, and it needs to be released.”

New search locations

Richard Godfrey from the MH370 Independent Group of investigators gave a video presentation at today’s remembrance event about work he and other researchers have been doing to define new search areas.

He said that the researchers had simulated more than 2,300 possible flights and found only one route that matched all the data.

“The combined satellite, fuel, drift, and aerial search data all agree that the MH370 endpoint was close to 34.3 degrees south on the 7th arc.”

The 7th arc was defined early on in the search for MH370 and is based on 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.

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.

Godfrey and other researchers from the Independent Group (Victor Iannello, Bobby Ulich, and Andrew Banks) say there are three possible final locations for MH370. They say the area that should be searched as the highest priority is an area of 23,050 square kilometres, which they say would be MH370’s location if there were no pilot inputs after the aircraft’s fuel was exhausted.

If it is assumed that there was a glide towards the south after fuel exhaustion, the search area that they consider to be the next priority measures 22,000 square kilometres.

The researchers say the lowest-priority area to be searched, if one assumes a controlled glide in an arbitrary direction, measures about 166,000 square kilometres.

The researchers have labelled the three areas A1, A2, and A3 and say they should be searched in that order.

They say that their analyses suggest that MH370’s flight path in its final hours followed E93.7875° longitude, “corresponding to a great circle path between waypoint BEDAX and the South Pole”.

Using this result, they say, the best estimate for the point of impact is S34.2342° E93.7875°.

“Although some of the subsea was previously searched in this vicinity, the terrain is challenging, and the debris field might have been not detected, or detected and misinterpreted,” the researchers said.

“There is also the possibility that there was a controlled glide after fuel exhaustion, and an impact well beyond what was previously searched.”

Godfrey said at today’s remembrance event: “I invite the Malaysian government to consider our published findings and in the interest of the safety of the flying public in the future to continue the search for MH370  until the cause for the accident can be finally determined and the next of kin know what happened to their loved ones.”

Oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi, from the University of Western Australia in Perth, thinks MH370 would more likely be found at about 32.5°S.

He has identified an area stretching from 33°S up to 28° S, which is north of the original 25,000-kilometre priority zone, as the most likely crash location.

BE POI = Best Estimate of Point of Impact. Photo courtesy of the Independent Group.

Independent Group photo with debris superimposed to indicate where a vortex generator baseplate is located.

‘Resolve has not diminished’

K.S. Narendran says he recalls the many occasions when the authorities seemed all set to bring the curtains down on the search for MH370, “the anguish it set off and the collective effort to retain the search that followed”.

With the passage of time, he says, the fervour has diminished, but the resolve has not.

“Other priorities have emerged. The all-consuming unifocal attention on the search and investigation of the past years has given way to greater accommodation of life’s other demands. However, it will be a mistake to assume that the expectation of a search has been given up. We will continue to press on.”

Narendran says that the family support group Voice370 speaks not just from a narrow mandate to seek justice, accountability, credible answers and closure for MH370 families alone, “but because there is a larger issue of aviation safety and public interest at stake”.

Trust and faith in public institutions is at stake too, Narendran says.

“I believe there is a case for people, businesses, institutions and governments the world over to more actively engage and weigh in.”

Speaking about the next of kin of those on board MH370, Narendran said: “I think we can be proud of ourselves, and certainly be forgiving of the time we have taken to come to an inner settlement with our loss.

“This process may never be fully complete, but we might yet someday be able to say with fond remembrance that the scars are of love as much as loss, our resilience as much as our vulnerability.

“Speaking for myself, I alternate between feeling burdened and lonely on the one hand and energised and sanguine about my prospects. On balance, in a better place than say, a couple of years back.”

Narendran asks why there was no concerted search campaign on the shores and beaches of east and South Africa.

“The MH370 families made a trip to Madagascar and did what the official search team was supposed to do,” he said. “The authorities were put to shame. Voice370 more than once asked that the locals be involved to comb the shores.

“There was no will, imagination, or resources to search for debris on shore, where debris was found.”

Theories still abound

Many journalists are still alleging that the chief pilot of MH370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, committed murder-suicide.

Captain Zaharie’s relatives have had to suffer endless unsupported allegations that Zaharie ditched the plane and was responsible for the deaths of those on board.

Blaine Gibson points out that the fact that the wing flap found in Tanzania was in a retracted position goes against the theory that there was a controlled intact ditching, a “pilot murder–suicide”.

It is astounding, Gibson says, that the controlled ditching theory is still being espoused, and that it is still being argued that the plane was intact under water.

“This piece proves that that did not happen. The other debris found by me and other private citizens include many shattered pieces of the interior cabin, so people who claim that the interior cabin, or the plane, or the fuselage are intact under water, that is also false.”

The ICAO investigating team said in its report that it was not of the opinion that Zaharie caused the plane’s disappearance.

The investigation team reported that there was no evidence to suggest that MH370 was flown by anyone other than the designated Malaysia Airlines pilots, but Kok Soo Chon said the team could not rule out the possibility that there was “unlawful interference” by a third party.

“But at the same time we cannot deny the fact that there was an air turn back. We cannot deny the fact that, as we have analysed, the systems were manually turned off, with intent or otherwise,” Kok Soo Chon said.

There are experts who suggest that MH370 crashed after there was a rupture in one of the crews’ two oxygen bottles.

This is a theory put forward by a senior British Boeing 777 airline captain, who prefers not to be named.

The pilot explains that emergency oxygen for the crew is stored in the avionics bay, which is located immediately beneath the flight deck.

He says that, if an oxygen bottle ruptured, it could be propelled into the fuselage structure, would breach the hull, and would cause decompression of the aircraft.

He suggests that the transponder could have been disabled when hit by the valve end of a bottle, or the power to it severed as the bottles sit next to the power source. This, the pilot says, would cause the aircraft to disappear from radar and any number of other pieces of equipment could be affected by such an explosion.

Airline pilot Juanda Ismail, who holds licences from the civil aviation authorities of the United States, Australia, China and Indonesia, says he thinks that the MH370 pilots may have tried to land at Penang International Airport, but were unsuccessful.

“I am not sure if this was the case, but it is definitely something that needs to be considered,” Juanda Ismail said.

Juanda Ismail says evidence for a possible attempt to go to Penang is provided by the primary surveillance radar data from Kota Bharu and Butterworth.

US court says MH370 lawsuits ‘do do not belong in the United States’

In January this year, an appeals court in the United States upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss litigation over the disappearance of MH370.

Next of kin of those on board the plane had sought to hold Malaysia Airlines, its insurer Allianz, and Boeing liable for the disaster.

The multidistrict litigation (MDL), which encompassed forty lawsuits, involved plaintiffs from the United States, Australia, China, India, and Malaysia, who represented more than one hundred passengers.

Three judges at the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the ruling made by District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in November 2018 that the forty wrongful death and product liability lawsuits “do not belong in the United States”.

The defendants in the case had called for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that the US court was a forum non conveniens (an inconvenient forum) for the lawsuits.

“This court has concluded that litigation in the United States related to the flight MH370 disaster is inconvenient, and that dismissal of the MDL cases in favour of Malaysia is warranted,” Judge Jackson stated in her ruling.

Judge Jackson said that the “substantial and overriding nexus to Malaysia” outweighed the “less substantial connection to the United States”.

Appeals court judge Neomi Rao said that the court had “great sympathy for the victims of this tragedy and their families”, but the panel found no basis to reverse the district court’s reasoned decision.

“We conclude that the district court did not clearly abuse its discretion in dismissing appellants’ lawsuits for forum non conveniens and affirm the decision in full,” Judge Rao wrote in the court’s ruling.

The Good Shepherd Lutheran church in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, is organising a special service to remember the victims of MH370. The service will be held tomorrow (Sunday) at 8 p.m.


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