Report on MH370 no closer to providing answers

The much anticipated 449-page final report on the ill-fated Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 released today by the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation team is nowhere closer to providing the answers the world has been seeking from day one – what had transpired on board flight MH370 and where is the final resting place of the aircraft. – AFP file photo

KUALA LUMPUR: The much anticipated 449-page final report on the ill-fated Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 released today by the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation team is nowhere closer to providing the answers the world has been seeking from day one – what had transpired on board flight MH370 and where is the final resting place of the aircraft.

The report in fact concluded that the investigation team was unable to determine the real cause of the disappearance of MH370, as it lacked the evidence from the aircraft wreckage, the information recorded on the Flight Data Recorder, Cockpit Voice Recorder and other recording devices on the aircraft as they were never recovered.

The MH370 story is etched in aviation history as the most bizarre incident, how a Boeing 777 with 239 people onboard vanished under mysterious circumstances, unleashing never ending scenarios provided both by aviation experts and conspiracy theorists.

Despite of an extensive multinational search coordinated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau that initially scoured 120,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean, and the subsequent search by US-based seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity that combed another 112,000 square km this year, the exact final resting place of MH370 remains elusive.

The only thing that confirms that the vast Indian Ocean is where the plane’s journey ended is parts of wings (Flaperon), and fragments from the engine cowlings and others, found on the shores of Mauritius, the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa.

On March 8, 2014, MH370 bound  for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur deviated from its original flight path when the airliner was about to be handed over to Vietnamese Air Traffic Control (ATC) over the South China Sea. What prompted Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah or anyone else onboard to turn back the plane and veer off to the Southern Indian Ocean without indicating the reasons or distress to the ATC remains unanswered in the report released today .

Much of the report states what has  already been reported previously except that it provides more details,   indicating the exhaustive investigations done from all angles.

Investigators had pored through whatever evidence and testimony at their perusal and even re-enacted the air turnback over the South China Sea using flight simulators that clearly indicated it could only be done through manual inputs and not by autopilot.

The report also highlighted that the two cargo items of interest, the lithium ion batteries and mangosteens, carried on MH370 were in fact packed and loaded according to standard operating procedures. The same items had been ferried via scheduled flights by Malaysia Airlines before and after the incident without any issues. Tests also found that it was highly improbable that the mangosteen extract when in contact with the batteries caused fire.

Investigators also noted both Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Service Centre (KL ATSC) and Ho Chin Minh Area Control Centre (HCM ACC) lost valuable time when events started unfolding. HCM ACC failed to notify KL ATSC that two-way communication was not established with MH370 within five minutes of the estimated time of transfer while KL ATSC depended on the aircraft position provided by the airline.

Within this time the aircraft had left the range of radars visible to the KL ATSC and investigators also noted that within one minute of the last transmission from MH370,  “Good night Malaysian three seven zero” by Capt Zaharie, the plane had vanished from the Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) display.

Air traffic controllers from both sides also did not comply fully with established ATC procedures in initiating the standard emergency phases.

Investigators also could not conclusively rule out that an aircraft or system malfunction was the cause for the loss of communications with the plane, with the limited evidence available, suggesting it is more likely due to the systems being manually turned off or power interruption or additionally in the case of VHF and HF frequencies not used, whether with intent or otherwise.

The recorded changes in the aircraft flight path following waypoint IGARI, heading back across Peninsular Malaysia, turning south of Penang to the north-west and a subsequent turn towards the Southern Indian Ocean were difficult to attribute to any specific aircraft system failures. It was more likely that such manoeuvres were due to the systems being manipulated, the report added.

Investigators also found no red flags on the background check done on the captain and the first officer that could substantiate the pilot suicide theory or abnormal behaviour.

Subsequent to the findings of the investigation team, several safety recommendations were made including reviewing the existing coordination procedures/establish new procedures between KL ATSC and Joint Air Traffic Control Centre (JATCC), air traffic controllers be provided refresher training and that the flight crew report to MAB Flight Operations of any serious ailment that can cause medical incapacitation.

During a press conference after releasing the report the head of the investigation team Kok Soo Chon stated the team was unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370 and it could only provide conclusive answers if the wreckage is found.

The next-of-kin who have been hoping for a closure on the MH370 conundrum, and the rest of the world, may have to live with the fact that MH370 could well be one of the greatest enduring mysteries that the world has seen. – Bernama

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