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33

MH17: Malaysia Airlines’ hideous failure of duty of care cost hundreds their lives

Malaysia Airlines – and Singapore Airlines and a few other carriers — have prioritised fuel economy over passenger safety — and almost 300 people have paid with their lives.

Malaysia Airlines took a gamble to fly over war-torn Ukraine to save on fuel. But it was not the only airline to take that risk.

Three large airliners set off from Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen for south-east Asia yesterday afternoon European time, all destined to cross the airspace over the eastern Ukraine where one them, the Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER , was to be destroyed by a ground-launched missile fired by pro-Russian separatists.

All 298 people on board died. The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was at 33,000 feet in broad daylight and good visibility in a well-travelled corridor deemed “safe” by the air traffic control authorities in Europe and the Ukraine at heights above 32,000 feet, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The flight path of MH17

Eleven minutes after MH17 took off for KL, a Singapore Airlines A380 took off from Paris, also destined to traverse the same airspace, en route to Singapore. However at the moment MH17 was shot out of the sky, the Paris departure SQ333 was further north and well to the west of the Malaysian flight. It wouldn’t have seen its demise.

About 32 minutes after MH17 left Amsterdam, a Singapore Airlines 777-200ER, operating as SQ351, took off from Copenhagen bound for Singapore via the same skies, above a war zone in which two other aircraft had been shot down earlier this week — one a Ukrainian military cargo plane and the other one of its jet fighters.

SQ351 was even further away when the Malaysian flight was butchered by what was almost certainly a Russian BUK surface-to-air or SAM missile.

The flight path of Singapore Airlines SQ333, an A380, that missed the missile yesterday

As the two unharmed flights, and probably a number of others, safely continued on their journeys, the air traffic authorities in Europe and the Ukraine hastily closed the air routes they had used.

But with 298 people slaughtered this is far too late to head off the outrage over the fact that the air routes above 32,000 feet were declared safe, and that carriers like Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines had flown where carriers like Qantas and many others had refused to go for at least two months.

What logic, what lack of sensitivity, and what lack of basic decency influenced Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines and others to expose their passengers to the risks of flying over a war zone where aircraft had already been shot down? Did they even consider them? If they did, why did they get it so wrong?

It is clear from the flight maps that for flights between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and similarly located hubs, less fuel is burned by continuing to use these air routes across the Ukraine.

But they’ve lost more passengers. What a terrible, ghastly and hideous failure of duty of care on the part of Malaysia Airlines. And how lucky was Singapore Airlines, and no doubt others?

35

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  • 1
    Desmond Carroll
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    I feel your copy in par three should read “… the Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER, was to be destroyed by a ground-launched missile allegedly fired by pro-Russian separatists”.

    Fraternal best wishes.

  • 2
    mikeb
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Any conspiracy theories yet? Ukrainians trying to discredit Russians? CIA trying to discredit either side? A crusade against Malaysia?

    Whatever - the truth is that MA gambled to save fuel costs and lost. Pity the poor passengers and their families and friends. Thankfully Qantas and others have been a bit more judicious.

  • 3
    Pete from Sydney
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t undretsand the intricacies of international air travel and routing, I’ll be the first to admit it…but I’m really shocked at Ben’s summary ..”What logic, what lack of sensitivity, and what lack of basic decency influenced Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines and others to exposure their passengers to these risks?” If it was declared safe by European air traffic control, why isn’t the air traffice control more in the firing line than Malaysian Airlines?

  • 4
    The Old Bill
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I daresay Singapore and Malasia’s view would be why were we told it was safe?

    Europe is a highly populated well educated and patolled part of the world with a reasonable air traffic control system. So who was still telling major international airlines with a typical commercial outlook that they were safe on that flight plan?

  • 5
    Catherine Scott
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    People know what to do if there’s a war on. When I flew to London during the first Iraq war the plane went via Hong Kong and the article circle to stay out of trouble.

    As for the current situation other airline companies made their own call and stayed out of the dangerous air space. This is as should be expected. It’s not enough to say ‘he told me it was okay’. A bit of judgement and responsibility taking is absolutely essential for the protection of the public.

  • 6
    Sany Shafneezal Rashid
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Ben i hate to call you something bad during this holy month of ramadhan but you do sound like a bloody moron writing this.

    Its like what Pete & Bill commented. If the EU has given “SAFE” clearance on routes & waypoints who the hell are you to scapegoat the airlines??

    Maybe Qantas has intelligence information shared with the US that Australia failed to share with the rest of the world?? Why would that be so??

    My advise is stop writing thru your ass and use your brain please. If you do have any.

  • 7
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of seeming tactless, I wonder if anyone has checked those nationalities. The toll of the various nationalities is similar to any roll call of airborne tourists leaving Amsterdam. Except that there are zero Americans and a remarkably large number of Australians. Yet Crikey has not commented on this apparent disparity.

    From flyertalk forum:
    •22 Australian
    •4 Belgian
    •6 British
    •1 Canadian
    •154 Dutch
    •4 German
    •27 Malaysian
    •27 nationality unknown

  • 8
    Allan Evans
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Roger - MH17 was the first leg of flights that connected KL to Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne. The roster looked pretty much like any flight headed to Australia.

  • 9
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    #6 Roger Clifton

    There is apparently only one Canadian so it is no surprise there are (so far) no Americans. They are generally not flying to SE Asia via Europe, unlike Australians for whom it is a direct route. Any Americans (or Canadians) on such flights are likely to European residents, or feasibly the rare RTW traveller.
    ………………
    #5
    The sun hasn’t gone down yet but I hope you eat a Snickers soon because obviously your sugar levels are way down…

  • 10
    Steerpike
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    An absurd and offensive article. Safety is not binary, and there are dozens of notionally hostile parts of the world where a surface to air missile could conceivably bring down a civilian plane at high altitude, yet teem with planes. To retrospectively make the sort of assessment that Ben Sandilands makes here is merely attention-grabbing idiocy.

  • 11
    David Hand
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the usual moral outrage from the children, aimed at anyone making any decisions in the western capitalist and commercial world in which we live.

    This is what Crikey is reduced to. There is an general bias against our civilisation, our institutions, our leaders and the elites. An airline gets shot down and it’s the airlines fault?

    Was it the fault of Russian separatists or poorly trained and disciplined militias with too powerful toys for their own good provided to them by a Russian empire builder?

    Oh nooooo! not in Crikey. It was greedy airline executives chasing that evil product - profit.

    Memo to Ben, if Qantas had not moved its kangaroo route to Dubai, it could easily be flying this route. Anyone who has caught QF1 / 2 in the past 20 years until the shift to Dubai has flown over Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Ukraine.

    All for evil profit of course.

    As you seem to be the authority on it Ben, just put in writing whether or not Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan are safe to fly over.

    I’m sure the flight operators at Qantas are flying over some of those countries right now. Are they putting their passengers’ lives at risk chasing evil profit?

    If you go to the casino, there are plenty of people who can tell you what number you should have bet on after the little white ball has stopped.

    You remind me of them, Ben

  • 12
    Craig Brown
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Roger - I don’t think it’s been confirmed yet but there are reports there were 23 US citizens on board.

  • 13
    AR
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Last night I finally bought my ticket to London and I was wondering what political drama might be going on in May 2015 when I return via Abu Dhabi - could be ISIS by then.
    I woke to this horror news this morning and remembered the route precisely because in 2002 I was flying over so much territory which previously had been politically impossible.
    I felt like Capt Kirk zooming over lands that I’d only previously traversed by wheel.
    It was a magnificent feeling, such power & luxury peering down from on high like demigods…
    I saw the Aral Sea shrinking over the years until in 2004 it had separated into two small puddles.
    And that was peace time!
    Unbelievable that to save a few bob in fuel anyone still overflies a bunch of drunken Russians & Ukrainians with the latest hi-tek, if dodgy & rusting. WMD.
    Would this be the free hand of the market, amoral & antiethical?

  • 14
    ilolatu
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Crikey entirely missed the point here in blaming the victims. The West has built a military complex around the threat of Russia yet ironically the only answer we have to Russia is capitulation.
    The US army was defeated by homebrew bomb makers, the Australian army has decorated pedophiles in it’s ranks. Our response to the Ukraine war was to retract an invitation to G20. Wooopdi doo. The Russian’s need not bother with the noise we make. Russian backed militias can act with impunity.

  • 15
    Jaybuoy
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I note our erstwhile PM’s call for an open inquiry into this matter.. I hope its better than the one he instituted into Manus Island and the Berati death..

  • 16
    Paulg
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Ben is a journalist. Any angle that grabs a headline will get a run. Makes good copy though.

  • 17
    Tim Byrne
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Well done, Crikey. You’ve truly filled a journalistic gap here. The ‘We don’t know any facts but we’re full of bile and blame anyway’ gap. Good show. Looking forward to the retractions you most certainly won’t be making even when it turns out you’ve overshot the mark. Class.

  • 18
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    Have a look at a map of the globe and look at the areas on pretty much any route that need to be crossed between Europe and Australia and there’s your answer. The world is full of conflict zones and almost all the time, commercial planes can fly over them without incident. Are airlines supposed to not go about their business because of the off-chance that some rebel might get trigger-happy with a surface to air missile?

    If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a bit of cool-headedness. Neither Ben Sandilands nor anyone else has all the facts yet - when we do, there’ll be plenty of time to apportion blame. In the meantime let’s not pile on in what has surely been a hideous 24 hours for Malaysia.

  • 19
    Nomad
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    I’m waiting for Mahatiar to blame the evil and corrupt west.

  • 20
    Liz Connor
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Remember July 3, 1988. USS Vincennes shot down (civilian) Iran Air Flight 655 in Iranian airspace above the Gulf, killing 290 people. Iran called it ‘a criminal act’ (as did Tony Abbott this time), and the US called it ‘a misunderstanding’.
    Less wealthy airlines want to cut fuel costs more than well-established airlines like Qantas.
    So I agree that it is the air traffic control authorities in Europe and the Ukraine - particularly the Ukraine - that are to blame for this tragic, but not unique, accident.

  • 21
    AR
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Why is this in moderation after 24hours?
    Last night I finally bought my ticket to London and I was wondering what political drama might be going on in May 2015 when I return via Abu Dhabi - could be ISIS by then.
    I woke to this horror news this morning and remembered the route precisely because in 2002 I was flying over so much territory which previously had been politically impossible.
    I felt like Capt Kirk zooming over lands that I’d only previously traversed by wheel.
    It was a magnificent feeling, such power & luxury peering down from on high like demigods…
    I saw the Aral Sea shrinking over the years until in 2004 it had separated into two small puddles.
    And that was peace time!
    Unbelievable that to save a few bob in fuel anyone still overflies a bunch of drunken Russians & Ukrainians with the latest hi-tek, if dodgy & rusting. WMD.
    Would this be the free hand of the market, amoral & antiethical?

  • 22
    Patriot
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Pretty easy to be wise after the event.

  • 23
    Sean
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The logic of MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

  • 24
    Zarathrusta
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    It’s highly disingenuous of Qantas to claim they were avoiding the Ukrainian airspace. Flying over Ukrain would be along no route they still fly. They now dive down towards Dubai.

    It’s easy to blame Malaysian in hindsight but it was in the company of many other airlines who were flying over Ukrain. It was just the unlucky one that got shot down. I agree the assesment was wrong but airlines would tend to follow the advice of ATC.

    I’d also hardly compare the apparent civil war in Ukrain with the first Iraq war. That was an full on war with the airline Catherine flew most likely owned by one of the countries directly prosecuting that war. That would make it a primary target.

  • 25
    stuart richardson
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Can Mr Sandilands let crikey readers know how he determined that the missile was fired by ‘pro Russian separatists’? This is appalling journalism a la Fox News; stating as fact something that is UNKNOWN.Its nice to know who is onboard publishing propaganda.

  • 26
    stuart richardson
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Nice one Liz. The other member of the club that has shot down a civilian airliner? Ukraine, yes and it was a Russian carrier.
    The utter bullshit that is being printed in this latest case is worth comparing to the media treatment of the US navy killing Iranian civilians due to a ‘misunderstanding’.

  • 27
    RiskMan
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    MH17 followed a route which was approved by Eurocontrol that was deemed safe by Ukraine (which had an interest in keeping flight paths open because it was able to collect overflight fees). Yet Ukraine has no effective control over the land and air where MH17 crashed. Approval by others (and unquestioning obedience) doesn’t remove MH’s duty of care, ie responsibility and ultimate accountability for passenger safety.

  • 28
    Rena Zurawel
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    There was another Malaysian airliner which disappeared in March this year. ANd it did not fly over Ukraine.
    With all the prophesies and speculations about the current tragedy, do we know what happened to the previous one? There were also plenty of people on board.

  • 29
    Long shot
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Malaysian Airline defenders: you think the airline was right to ignore the fact that prior to MH17, no less than FOUR Ukranian military planes were shot down in June & July? how could MA just ignore that? Do you think at the highest levels of MA Management there wasn’t one discussion about the increasing ‘Ukraine air space’ risk at their safety meetings? C’mon guys.

    People trusted MA and had faith they do everything they can to keep their passengers safe. They shouldn’t have been flown over that airspace and they shouldn’t have been killed. full stop. MA deserve their fair share of the blame and it would be a good outcome if they went broke over this.

  • 30
    Itsarort
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I flew over the Black Sea/Crimea on 27th of June en route to London in Singapore Airlines. I’m flying back to Sydney this Friday/Saturday. I wonder if they’ve changed the flight path?

  • 31
    Sany Shafneezal Rashid
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    To those that are bashing MAS even when its clear-cut that the EU monitoring authorities that declared flight path as safe, please share your home location & routes used to go to work.

    I would like a sleeper cell to send an alert to your local intelligence of possible terrorist attack.

    Let see who of your local intelligence shares the info with the public & hopefully you dont get blown to pieces.

    This discussion is shambolic!! Its no wonder third world countries hate the western developed nations. The more developed you are the more stupid your brains works.

    Western nations can develope technology to find a handphone up someone’s arse and sells the technology for billions of dollars in the form of an aircraft and when something happens you whitewash your hands. Typical colonialist from the 1700 thinking.

    And when “your” yes your… people carry drugs across border & don’t follow local laws you demand justice for the death penalty but you bomb nations & kill civilians in the process but call it collateral damage.

    Fcuking Diabolical.

  • 32
    AR
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Sany - that is a fine piece of reasoning indeed. Well done.
    One small point, without exception, every Draconian anti-drug law throughout Asia, West & East, is a result of western pressure - especially the disastrous Nixonian War on Drugs (first of the nonsensically named ‘Wars’). This was precisely because such societies, pre colonial contact (read: conquest) and into post Independence until heavied, were mature enough to say that if someone wants to do drugs, that’s their choice. Aaah, Asian fatalism, just like the ancient Greeks.
    So idiot westerners flocked there. QED.

  • 33
    Sany Shafneezal Rashid
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    AR - you got me into twilight zone there… But just to iterate, this discussion of Ben Sandilands’s stupid write-up should stop.

    It has created enough publicity for the idiot blogger & the admins of Crikey should just put it down. There are Australians in that flight & its insensitive of a self-declared “AVIATION REPORTER AND PLANE TALKING BLOGGER” to write something like this suggesting families of the lost ones start pointing fingers at the innocent people.

  • 34
    RiskMan
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Let’s try this. My passengers trust me to drive them home safely. I reach a road junction and I have choices.

    If I choose route A it takes longer to get home and it costs more to pay toll operator A.

    If I choose route B it’s the shortest and cheapest route. The road transport authority approved route B based on toll operator B’s assertion that it’s safe only if I stay on the main road.

    Yet it is public knowledge that toll operator B has armed battles with its neighbour and cannot secure part of the road.

    What do I do? I can follow other drivers who decide for me. I can follow approval of others to justify my decision. Or I can decide I don’t have the risk appetite to drive into a known battle zone.

    Following doesn’t make it right. That’s the issue.

  • 35
    Sany Shafneezal Rashid
    Posted Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Obviously RiskMan is the main cause of traffic jams wherever he is.

    On another note, the authorities that say route B is your govt. not local council or district. That said… why not RiskMan flies to London via Hawaii-LA-Houston-Miami-NYC because any route u take from sydney to london will come close to:

    1) Sri Lanka (Tamil Tiger insurgence)
    2) India-Pakistan (Kashmir fued) both have nuclear capabilities
    3) Iran (western branded terrorist with uncomfirmed WMDs but confirmed sanctions)
    4) Any arab speaking country (terrorist all the same)
    5) Any northern african country (on-going coups, bombings & killings)
    6) Russia (ex-communist, invades its neighbours)

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