Even if the voice recorder and “black box” are found, they would only provide sketchy details about what happened to the doomed Malaysian Airlines flight.
With vital clues held by any floating debris from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 being churned up by a monster storm in the southern Indian Ocean off Perth today, and renewed hints about criminal actions on board flight MH370, the truth about this air disaster remains as elusive as ever.
The government of Malaysia says it will hold a briefing today and include an update on the police investigation of all 239 people who were on board. The investigation was seeking evidence of terrorist links, criminal records, relationship problems and any records of mental or psychological disorders.
Yet it was only yesterday that Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister and Minister of Defence Hishammuddin Hussein reaffirmed previous statements that nothing adverse had been found about anyone on board.
The minister made those comments four hours before Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the flight, which had left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean more than seven-and-a-half hours after departure.
Malaysia’s position — that the flight had been intentionally diverted from its course and its identifying transponder and an automatic reporting system turned off by unknown hands for an unknown purpose — has been in uneasy contrast with the claims that the police inquiries had not yielded results for more than a week.
Today’s intended recovery zone activities south-west of Perth (pictured: the search yesterday) have been suspended because of severe weather, which is expected to moderate this evening or during tomorrow.
This has frustrated the plan for the Australian supply ship HMAS Success to find and retrieve two objects believed to have been from MH370 that were spotted by an RAAF P3 Orion yesterday afternoon, as well as other potential debris seen by a China IL-76.
Despite the growing catalogue of potential parts of the crashed Boeing 777 that have been sighted from the air and by satellite images, including a French space-based radar system, not a single item from the flight has been recovered and identified. Most of the wreckage is on the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean more than 2500 kilometres south-west of Perth, but retrieving the small amount believed to be floating on the surface before it is completely lost is the urgent and difficult task of the Australia-co-ordinated recovery effort.
The two ships believed best positioned to find and secure the clues when the weather relents are HMAS Success and the China ice breaker Snow Dragon, which was returning to its home port after completing its support work in Antarctica for the southern polar summer just ended.
If the so-called black box flight recorders from MH370 are found, recovered and read, the voice recorder would only reveal what was heard in the cockpit for the last two hours of a flight that lasted between seven hours and 31 minutes and eight hours before crashing into the ocean.
However, unlike some voice recorders in other airliners, this one cannot be disabled completely by human intervention. The flight data recorder should carry comprehensive recorders for the entire flight, down to such details as when cabin warnings messages like seat belt reminders were turned on and off, as well as any actions that deliberately turned off the transponder, which identifies airliners to civilian air traffic control systems.
It would show what cabin pressure levels existed during the flight, when the cockpit door was opened and shut, and electrical circuitry that might reveal whether or not something catastrophic and unplanned occurred to divert the flight.
This flight data recorder would resolve the arguments that continue as to whether MH370 was lost because of some massive and unprecedented mechanical or systems failure, or because someone who knew how to fly 777s, and how their systems worked, deliberately took it “dark” and off course.
Both arguments may be in part correct. MH370 appears to have been under planned and intelligent control for more about two hours after it become invisible to civilian air traffic control systems using military radar data recorded in Malaysia and Thailand.
However, the refinement of Inmarsat satellite data — which recorded five standby “pings” from an apparently deliberately disabled automatic data broadcast system in the 777 — showed that for most its flight, MH370 flew in a straight line at a normal cruise altitude and speed, further and further into the emptiness of the southern Indian Ocean, until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
Important clues to the nature of the calamity that overtook or was imposed upon MH370 and its lost souls may thus be found in the debris still afloat on this lonely and storm-prone sea. But not for much longer.