Tony Abbott with then-Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak in 2014 (Image: AAP/Richard Wainwright)

The big revelation (so far) from Sky’s new doco series MH370: The Untold Story is former prime minister Tony Abbott’s revelation that he knew “early on” that the “highest levels” of the Malaysian government believed those on board missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were killed by a “suicidal” pilot.

“My understanding, my very clear understanding, from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here they thought it was a murder-suicide by the pilot,” Abbott said.

“Let me reiterate — I want to be absolutely crystal clear — it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot.”

The disappearance of MH370 in March 2014 prompted the most expensive search in aviation history, totalling AU$200 million ($60 million of which came from Australia)

Surface- and under-water searches — a joint effort between the governments of Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States — continued until January 2017, when they were suspended.

A brief resumption of the search by private company Ocean Infinity in 2018 yielded no results.

The Malaysian government came under intense criticism at the time, accused of covering up what it knew about the tragedy to save face.

Abbott’s revelation will surely add to this.

Yet, at the time, Abbott didn’t hint at this “crystal clear” understanding that the Malaysian government knew more than it was admitting, saying simply that Malaysia was Australia’s “friend and partner”.

“I think we owe it to the grieving families of the 239 people on board, we owe it to the anxious governments of all of the countries that have people on board that aircraft, we owe it in particular to the Malaysians who are our friends and partners in so many regional ways, we owe it to all of them to do whatever we reasonably can to the to the bottom of this mystery,” Abbott said a few weeks after the disappearance.

“So if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it, but I don’t want to underestimate just how difficult it is.”

He went on to note the “tremendous” international cooperation that had followed the tragedy:

It’s been tremendous to see the international co-operation here. We have regular military cooperation with the United States, New Zealand and Malaysia, but to see also the co-operation with us from China, from Japan, from Korea is really heartening and it demonstrates that in a humanitarian cause the nations of this region can come together for the betterment of humanity.”

He even went so far as to say, in very un-Abbotonian tones, that it was “only reasonable” that Australia should bear the costs of the search.

”It’s an act of international citizenship on Australia’s part,” he said.