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MISSING MH370: Everyone wants to solve the mystery of MH370
Publication Date : 17-03-2014
Some of the methods used by search and rescue (SAR) wannabes to solve the mystery of MH370 are so implausible that it is not worth giving them the time of day going through the results.
AT 7:48am on Tuesday, my restless sleep was awakened by a WhatsApp message that so and so’s brother-in-law working for Microsoft in Seattle, Washington, had found the missing MH370 plane.
“My brother-in-law was using a Microsoft mapping system and he thinks he found the missing plane in a jungle. Can I e-mail it to you?” wrote my friend.
“Thanks,” I replied, telling myself to have an open mind, as you never know if she were onto something. So I gave her my e-mail address.
I reached for my smartphone, launched Gmail and clicked the link. It showed a satellite image of a plane somewhere in the jungle near Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu.
I then sent a WhatsApp message to her, “Can ask him if he used Google Maps to locate the plane?”
“Okay, will do,” she replied. “Waiting for a reply from Seattle. Will text you to confirm.”
“Okay,” I said and went back to my precious sleep.
Ten minutes later, she sent a WhatsApp message: “(Brother-in-law) confirmed he used Google Maps. Why the heck is a jet plane parked in a jungle/plantation unless it is for something illegal? Why not land at Terengganu airport?”
I replied: “Google Maps don’t use live satellite images. The images are a few months old. Probably satellite caught a plane flying over that area.”
Since the mysterious disappearance of the Boeing 777, with 239 people on board, after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, almost everybody in the world including “Raja Bomoh Sedunia” (meaning "Global King Witchdoctor") Ibrahim Mat Zin have been trying to locate the plane.
Several concerned citizens had also called The Star, believing that they have discovered the missing airplane after scrolling through the Google Maps satellite images.
Don’t they realise that even the newly-opened second Penang bridge is not on Google Maps yet, I thought. If only Google Maps can locate their brains!
Astounded that there are people out there (some owning smartphones cleverer than them) who are so gullible, thinking they can use Google Maps to find the missing Boeing 777, I asked a colleague to do a story on the matter.
“Missing MH370: Don’t rely on Google Maps to search for plane, says Google” was a headline on The Star Online.
I tweeted a link to that story. And my Twitter friend Sharifah Arfah (@sharifaharfah) replied: “guilty as charged :p”.
Curious to know why she used Google Maps to locate the plane, I interviewed the 40-year-old journalist via Twitter.
“I guess I’m fascinated with this plane because its disappearance is so baffling. Google Maps is handy to imagine where the plane could be. But I was under no illusion that I’ll actually find it,” she said.
Last week, Raja Bomoh Sedunia practically “hijacked” the discussions/reports on the missing plane. Ibrahim used a fish trap, bamboo binoculars, three coconuts and a magic carpet to search for the missing plane.
“During my prayer, my eyes hurt and my vision turned black. I think the plane is still in the air or has crashed into the sea,” said the bomoh who slapped a crocodile from a previous incident which then died three weeks later.
Raja Bomoh Sedunia claimed he had “found” the plane, something that the 57 ships, 48 aircraft and 14 nations taking part in the air and sea search could not.
The other news that I thought laughable was Kuala Kedah fishermen who used sonar in search missions in the Straits of Malacca.
It was funny because by Tuesday, it was not plausible for the plane – that was heading east – to have crashed west of its destination. (Later, it was confirmed that MH370 did make a turn back.)
I also thought it was hilarious that fishermen wanted to use sonar technology (to detect fish) and Global Positioning System (GPS) to find the missing aircraft.
Later, my colleague P.K. Katharason, who covered the mysterious disappearance of the plane carrying Sri Lankan tycoon Upali Wijewardena, told me that fishermen found the wreckage in February 1983 in the Andaman Sea a few months after it crashed. The private jet was bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka, from Kuala Lumpur.
If the missing MH370 crashed into the sea, there is a high probability that a fisherman might come across debris or wreckage before anyone else, said former Malaysian Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) department head Captain Jaffar Lamri.
“It is their playground and they know the seas very well. They are everywhere and there is a high probability that they may pick up debris,” he said.
Like all things in this country, the SAR mission took a political turn. Certain politicians questioned why Malaysia didn’t deploy its submarines to locate the Boeing 777.
A Malaysian tweeted: “Where is Malaysia’s submarines? Can’t we use now for SAR? Why must Singapore offer to use theirs?”
Was he ignorant that Singapore sent a Submarine Support & Rescue Vessel to aid in SAR operations?
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) had to issue a statement that it was not using submarines as its sonar is not designed to conduct seabed searches.
“It is only good for detecting and searching for moving underwater contacts that produce sound, such as the sound of engines, movement, and radio or sonar transmissions,” said RMN chief Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar.
He said submarines were not suitable for detecting contacts on the seabed, adding that there were better options, including sonars fitted on hydrographic vessels, submarine rescue vessels, specialised rescue vessels and minehunters.
The RMN chief’s explanation didn’t convince some people. They pointed out to a wire service article that reported the submarines could be used for search and rescue operations.
It has been an exasperating week. And it is not helped by amateur SAR wannabes. Some of their methods are so implausible that I feel like slapping them “like a crocodile”.