Its been a frustrating three years searching for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board. What is apparent is that the mystery which at times had conspiracy theorists leaping about blaming the American Air Force, aliens and cockpit fires, is that we just know nothing about what happened.
I’m not a relative of anyone on board, but had this been the case, the terrible almost transfixingly macabre disappearance surely would have driven me to a visit to the Malaysian embassy in South Africa with photographs and demands.
In Australia, the Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported on Tuesday 3 September “The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found.”
But it has to be said. Yet there are clues and we’ve perused these closely.
- Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had simulated a similar route on his Flight Simulator at home. It’s not a normal route. It’s not like he was practicing for some emergency. His simulating featured a flight almost exactly like the one the plane is believed to have taken before disappearing.
- The flight characteristics were those only a highly experienced pilot could have managed in the circumstances. The plane nosed over and dived towards the ocean and then was flared back 180 degrees and more than 30 000 feet below where the dive began. No beginner here.
- The trajectory of the plane took it at low altitude and therefore conducive to radar avoidance, over Malaysia, then northern Indonesia, then South west into the deep Indian Ocean. Why? To avoid detection.
- The point at which communication failure occurred was precisely at the point the pilot switched channels between Malaysia and Vietnam. The person who switched off the transponder at that point as well as ACARS and other systems was not only proficient, but had to be seated within seconds of the captain reporting the handover point to the Malaysians. In other words, the pilot or first officer.
I’ve written about this for three years and cannot, as the Australian’s have pointed out, prove anything until the plane is located.
But you don’t have to be an aviator to understand that there are some glaring issues which the authorities cannot begin to address. It all looks highly suspicious and the suspicion falls upon the Captain of the aircraft. I’m not going to say anything further because he too has family and no-one likes a wiseguy from another country thumb-sucking facts.
Still, let’s address facts we do have. It’s the most expensive search effort for any aircraft, is the largest and crosses many seas. It began in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea and then shifted to the Indian Ocean off Australia.
The aircraft was last detected by radar in the Strait of Malacca and in the Andaman Sea. The engines of the Boeing 777-200ER sent ping messages to the Inmarsat communications network. Between October 2014 and January this year a massive survey was conducted of 120,000 km2 of sea floor south-west of the Australian coast.
Several pieces of the plane have washed up in Africa and Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion where the flaperon was found in July 2015
The ATSB says “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era… 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.”
It’s 440 page report also says:
“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,” it said.
But the money has run out.
The US has offered to bet more involved but Malaysia is now moving away from accepting any further searches for the plane. While Kuala Lumpur instituted live tracking of its aircraft, there’s still the fact that 239 people are gone. And no-one knows where.
Still, there is a slight glimmer of light about all of the above. Flight MH370 emphasised to the reasonably minded public that its unacceptable to live in a world where you can attack a little piece of rubber to your arm that tracks you around a bicycle track but where the latest commercial airliner could not be tracked in real time. Something about it costing $20m per year. Airliners have put profit before logic. That’s not a sustainable situation where I can lodge a chip in a local lion and then follow it around on my iPhone from Jamaica but SAA’s chairperson of the board can’t find her Boeing while she’s actually sitting on it.
The Boeing I mean.
So the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, also extended recording time for the voice recorder, and forces new aircraft sold from 2020 to ensure that the flight recorder ends up floating when planes are submerged.