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Jul 18, 2014

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.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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?

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33 thoughts on “MH17: Malaysia Airlines’ hideous failure of duty of care cost hundreds their lives

  1. Desmond Carroll


    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    #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.
    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

    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.

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