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Four days on, a recovery operation for MH370 remains stalled

There can be no recovery operation for doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 — or questions answered on what happened to it — until any wreckage is found. Crikey’s aviation correspondent reports.

If missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is in the Gulf of Thailand or the South China Sea, which is receiving special attention by search activities today, those on board and the wreckage of the 777-200 in which they were flying will be disappearing and being dispersed, making it increasingly difficult to identify the exact location of the crash and its causes.

This is day four of the search. Only if the much-expanded search area — which includes thousands of kilometres of coastlines — gives up a wreck on land will finding the “black box” flight data and cockpit voice recorders become much more straightforward.

Those recording devices would show whether MH370, which was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board early last Saturday morning, fell to an act of terrorism or a massive mechanical or systems-related failure.

The unresolved issues concerning passengers with stolen or fake passports, and a peculiar reported gap between when the flight was last seen by radar and heard by radio, make it more likely that it crashed because of criminal activity on the plane.

The last radar confirmed location of the MH370 was 162 kilometres north-east of Kota Bharu, on the east side of the Malaysia Peninsula, heading across the Gulf of Thailand toward the southern tip of Vietnam. The farther away from that location any crash site is found to be, the more certain it will be that the 777 was flown in radio silence and most likely with its radar transponder (which identifies it to air traffic control) disabled.

However, MH370 was approaching a boundary beyond which Malaysia ATC radar didn’t reach, and there is no evidence that it was ever seen on Vietnamese radars, at least not as a clearly identified commercial flight.

The last radio conversation with the flight, conducted through an intermediary airliner using the emergency broadcast frequency, appeared normal, but there was “muttering” in the background, and that link went silent (according to Malaysia media reports) eight minutes after it was set up by the Malaysian controllers, who were concerned when they lost radar contact sooner than they would have normally expected.

There are numerous inconsistencies and conflicting indications in everything that has been said by the airline and the Malaysia authorities at the technical level, as well as confusion over the security processes that were supposed to be in place at Kuala Lumpur’s major international airport, whether they were followed, and whether they were adequate in either event.

All of those issues may yet prove totally irrelevant if something completely unexpected went wrong with the airliner itself, which has an outstanding operational record for being a robust and highly successful design.

The high-speed crash of a Silkair 737 MI185 into a river mouth near Palembang in Indonesia in 1997 bodes badly for efforts to identify and recover anything from MH370. Despite that crash site being known and promptly subjected to a massive recovery operation, most of the debris and human remains of MI185 were rinsed out to sea, while dredges were used to sift through mud to recover those fragments driven into the river bed.

Halfway through day four of the disappearance of MH370, any recovery operation doesn’t yet have a starting point.

8
  • 1
    seriously?
    Posted Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    What’s the point of an act of ‘terrorism” if no one knows you committed one? I appreciate with so little to go on this is a theory that has to be considered, I fail to see how it is an act of terrorism without this link or connection. I understand how the presence of the stolen passports raises suspicions, however, the reports this morning indicate that CCTV shows the passengers flying with them weren’t of Asian appearance as first thought. This inconsistency - which was clearly at odds with the Austrian and Italian names on the passports - was one small thread which the terrorism theory was hanging by.

  • 2
    Macro
    Posted Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Spot on, Seriously.

    There’s just no point to an act of terrorism if no terrorist group is claiming responsibility.

    As for the stolen passports, I have flown extensively throughout Asia on various airlines and I reckon at times half the passengers were illegal immigrants. Not much weight there.

  • 3
    mikeb
    Posted Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    The longer a recover goes the less likely we’ll find a definitive cause. Terrorism is the first thought although I haven’t heard of a credible theory about why or by whom. Whatever the reason it’s a shocking tragedy and I feel for the friends & relatives still waiting for any news.

  • 4
    Karen
    Posted Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Agree with all of the above. Terrorism is a political act designed to not only garner attention but to persuade/force a wider community to support a political process and/or outcome. If the protagonists and the motive are not publicised, it defeats the purpose of the act.

    In addition, there were reported issues concerning the wing of this particular Malaysia Airlines aircraft, which took it out of action. In all, it seems to have been a doomed aircraft not to mention a horrific and appalling tragedy.

  • 5
    Brackenburg
    Posted Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi honey, I am home.

    Totally agree. I have to own up to watching Aircrash Investigation on the odd occasion. Quite often it features crashes that have resulted from previous dodgy maintenance practises.

    MH370 has all the hallmarks of one of these. And it’s not unusual for pilots to get absolutely no opportunity to radio the problem during a sudden aircraft break up. The plane is violently twisting and hurtling towards the earth and his only concern, besides the passengers welfare, is his own life. It’s about to end.

  • 6
    Jithen Bantval Panekal
    Posted Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    With MH370 deviating from its normal flight path and then being shown as per radar contact to have last been seen in a direction that puts it in the straits of malacca. Would passengers onboard have not noticed the plane changing course by observing the inflight air map on their screens. Why couldn’t someone use their mobile phones to contact someone on ground to let them know what was happening. Did cabin crew notice what was happening n tried to raise some contact with the outside world? As a traveller myself I have noticed few people who leave their mobile phones switched on during flight. Considering no response from the passengers or cabin crew during the entire time the plane flew on a diverted flight path n then flying extremely low as per visual sightings by fishermen in the area it begs the question were they all incapacitated right from the time the plane diverted from its original path 40minutes into the flight??

  • 7
    mikeb
    Posted Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    The use of mobile phones relies on coverage being available. If the passengers had time to get on their phones then maybe they were out of range of mobile coverage?

  • 8
    Karen
    Posted Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Evidence seems to be pointing to a structural failure (eg cracking in the fuselage under the satellite systems),their disablement leading to compromised air craft detection, decompression in the cabin, compromised crew and passengers as a result, a possible unnavigated plane and pitch into the sea or, alternatively, a disintegration of the plane in the sky. Was the plane checked in this area when it was last serviced? If not, why not?

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