Image : U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric A. Pastor
The latest (and what was said to be the final) report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, released on July 30, 2018, indicated what the world already knew – despite a four-year long search investigators have failed to find any explanation as to why the Boeing 777 jetliner went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board on March 8, 2014. Was it premeditated murder-suicide? Hijacking? The conspiracies have gone wild. The investigation team’s report, however, did find indications that the plane was manually veered off course, as well as significant lapses by Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control. And now, French experts have something to say about it – by re-opening their investigation into the doomed flight’s disappearance.
The Malaysian government’s 449-page report on the findings of the investigation, released on June 30, 2018, sparked accusations by the victims’ families of incompetence and a possible cover-up, a view that many experts share. Newspaper Le Parisien reported on August 5, 2018, that France’s Gendarmerie of Air Transport (GTA) has launched its own probe into the disappearance of Flight MH370. Four French citizens were among the 239 on board the missing aircraft.
The most significant piece of suspected Flight MH370 debris to be located was a flaperon found on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean (2015). An interim report by French authorities claimed their investigation of the flaperon had been hampered by an absence of satellite data from Boeing, which is why the results of their analysis of the wing part have never been fully released.
French investigators therefore say they will seek to re-examine “all the technical data” provided by the British satellite telecommunications company, Inmarsat, to verify “authenticity” of the Boeing 777's path and confirm if it was correctly plotted. Inmarsat tracked the plane’s pings to the southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia, or the so-called “Southern Corridor”, where the plane is believed to have crashed. In accordance, the victims’ relatives have issued a statement urging the Malaysian government to release all data – including that of military radars – for review and analysis by independent experts.
What did the report find (or not)
“The team is unable to determine the real cause for disappearance of MH370...,” Kok Soo Chon, head of the MH370 safety investigation team, told reporters following the release of the report on July 30, 2018. When asked if they would ever find out what happened on the plane, the chief said: “The answer can only be conclusive if the wreckage is found,” he was quoted as saying byReuters. Meaning that without the recovery of the plane’s flight recorders it is unlikely that any of the many theories for the cause will ever be proven.
However, the report did uncover a disturbing version of events that unfolded on board the aircraft – that Flight 370 might have been steered off course deliberately. It states that, “The change in flight path probably resulted from manual inputs”. This would be a very probable explanation as to why the jetliner abandoned its route less than 40 minutes into flight from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Beijing (China), passing over Malaysia and then cruising south over the Indian Ocean. But that begs the question: who is responsible?
Although investigators stated that the plane’s controls were likely deliberately manipulated to take it off course, they were not able to determine by who. It is believed that a system failure alone could not account for sudden turns in the direction of the plane, something pilots and experts have been saying all along. But so far no evidence from the extensive background checks on either the captain – Zaharie Ahmad Shah – or the co-pilot – Fariq Abdul Hamid – has surfaced to suggest that either of them had deliberate intentions to crash the plane into to the ocean.
And yet, how to explain the chilling discovery that investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have put forward: that all on board the plane – the captain, co-pilot, passengers and crew – were unconscious hours before the aircraft eventually ran out of fuel and plunged into the Indian Ocean. The most likely scenario being that the pilot deliberately de-pressurized the cabin. Zaharie Ahmad Shah radioed air traffic controllers saying „Good night, Malaysia Three Seven Zero“, shortly before the plane disappeared.
But investigators maintain that someone must have been in control of the plane for at least some time after the pilot‘s goodbye. “We are not of the opinion it could have been an event committed by the pilots," Kok Soo Chon told reporters. In fact, the report goes to some lengths to suggest that “unlawful interference“ with the flight could have been possible. "We cannot rule out unlawful interference by a third party," such as someone holding the pilots hostage, the investigation team‘s chief was quoted as saying by AP. But no group has said it hijacked the plane and no ransom demands have been made, Kok Soo Chon added.
A prominent member of an independent group of experts, Victor Iannello, questions on his MH370 blog the Malaysian government‘s report and the suggestions of a third party or unlawful interference. He criticizes the decision to rule out a murder-suicide plot by the pilot, since evidence shows someone deliberately disabled the plane's communication systems before manually rerouting it.
“How can Malaysian investigators ignore that the captain had the best opportunity and capability to divert the plane? How does the compressed timeline of the diversion fit any other possibility if the diversion was intentional?" Iannello writes.
"It is understandable that the Safety Report did not apportion blame to the captain. However, it is not understandable that the report deflected blame to an unnamed third party,” he says while also raising questions about radar and pilot simulator data, the investigation of the flaperon found on the French island of Reunion in 2015, and a connection made by the first officer’s cell phone.
What the report did reveal were apparent shortcomings in the Malaysian government's response to the accident, which led to the civil aviation chief’s resignation moments after the report was made public. In a statement announcing his resignation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the report had highlighted failures by the air traffic control (ATC) to comply with standard operating procedures (SOPs). Azharuddin had been the director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation when Flight MH370 went missing.
According to investigators’ findings, air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), failed to initiate standard emergency procedures once communication with the plane could not be established following the crossover from one air space to another. And that caused a significant delay in detecting the disappearance of the doomed Boeing 777.
“The air traffic controllers did not initiate the various emergency phases as required, thereby delaying the activation of the search and rescue operations,” said Kok Soo Chon. “There is also no evidence that the air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur had kept continuous watch on the radar display,” he was quoted as saying by Australia’s The Star.