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MISSING MH370: Malaysia must further commit to solving mystery

Publication Date : 24-03-2014


It has been two weeks since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished over the South China Sea with no indication of distress. Still, authorities don't know where the plane is or what happened to it. To make things worse, the country's chaotic lack of coordination in its response to the incident has made a growing number of people feel upset by the crash news, especially families waiting for a definitive answer to the flight MH370 mystery.

Inquiries have so far focused on assumptions that the pilot, co-pilot or someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight hundreds of kilometres off its intended course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Assuming such a theory has some substance, then why was the plane not properly tracked within Malaysian airspace? How come the military didn't properly track a flying object that had then become unidentified (i.e., the transponder had been turned off)? Why did the air force not scramble fighter jets to intercept the unknown flying object? Isn't there a procedure in tracking unidentified flying objects approaching and entering sovereign air space? Isn't there any satellite coverage over the Andaman Sea, Malacca Strait or the Indian Ocean?

The Malaysia Airlines flight lost contact with air control and went missing in the early hours of Saturday, March 8, more than an hour after it took off. We were initially told that the plane, carrying 239 passengers and flight crew on board, might have crashed into the Gulf of Thailand in waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, triggering a large international search and rescue effort, but to no avail. Today, frustration over Malaysia's handling of the incident is growing across Asia amid conflicting accounts surrounding the biggest aviation mystery in recent years.

On the one hand, the media and public have rightly pointed to the conflicting information released by Malaysian officials who have showed a serious lack of coordination in their response. A lot of people have been speaking off the cuff, and international media are reporting it as official news because there isn't any official agency you can go to for a statement.

The Malaysian government is now struggling under closer scrutiny from the international press and the country's thriving social media — to the point that the country's “old paradigm”, where the government thinks it can control the news and everything will be based on official sources, is now over.

To make things worse, the mood among Malaysian, Chinese and Australian families is also moving from patience in the search for the 239 people aboard missing flight MH370 to anger. As expected, the contradictory accounts and a lack of concrete answers have raised suspicions of a cover-up. In two recent briefings in Beijing, family members have repeatedly accused Malaysian authorities of covering things up. They are especially upset that even with the efforts of more than 20 countries, not a single piece of the plane has shown up or been made public by Malaysia Airlines.

On the evening of March 11, for instance, media reports said for the first time that the missing plane changed course and was spotted in the Strait of Malacca at 2:40am, citing a senior military official and the head of the Malaysian air force. The following morning, Malaysian authorities still hadn't clarified the reports that the plane changed course at 1:30am. By noon that day, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that its Malaysian counterpart had already confirmed with them that the plane had entered Vietnamese airspace, but when the Vietnamese tried to get in touch with the missing plane, it received no response. So, why was the government lying about the flight's change of course in the first place?

Even though there might be a lot of differences between the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight and the tragic 2009 crash involving an Air France flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, Malaysian authorities must further commit to dedicate the time and resources to find the missing plane. In the case of Air France flight AF447, the black boxes were finally located by robot submarines after a search spanning 23 months and costing about US$40 million.

The final investigation into that incident eventually blamed a combination of technical faults and pilot error for the crash, but more importantly the recovered data from the recorders pulled from the ocean at great cost put an end to the agony of doubt that family members and friends of the passengers had been going through. Unless Malaysian authorities show the same determination in searching and finding the wreckage in deep waters in the ocean, the people responsible for intentionally changing the course of the commercial flight will have succeeded in their plans to make us doubt our safety and our right to find a definitive answer to this tragedy. That's what we expect from the government in the mid- and long-term.


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