Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 four weeks on: The key questions answered in search for missing plane

 

Travel Correspondent

It is four weeks since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 passengers and crew on board. Very little evidence has emerged in that time, creating a mystery that has no modern parallel. Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, has been following events closely since the first report of the disappearance of the Boeing 777, and tackles some of the key questions.

How well have the Malaysian authorities performed – and is there evidence of concealment?

Any government confronted with so inexplicable a chain of events would struggle to present a coherent story to the interested parties. Yet there have been significant oversights and inconsistencies that have served to confuse investigators and the watching world, and perhaps deepen the grief of the relatives of those on board. Even the most basic facts - the sequence of events between take-off and the flight’s disappearance - has been altered. Initially the last verbal communication from the aircraft was said to be “Alright, goodnight,” spoken by the first officer (co-pilot), but the transcript shows it was a fairly standard sign-off – "Good night Malaysian three seven zero” - and it is not clear whether the captain or first officer spoke.

There is also the inexplicable delay in the release of the first significant data, obtained by the British company, Inmarsat. The firm analysed some fragmentary satellite data, found that the aircraft has been flying for far longer than previously thought, and notified the Malaysian authorities of its discovery within 72 hours of the disappearance. But that was revealed only after a week – meaning that four days were wasted searching the South China Sea.

Relatives of the passengers, as well as political opponents in Malaysia, have accused the government of concealing vital information. It is likely to be the case that a number of agencies from the nations involved are keeping secret some details pertaining to their military capabilities and limitations. But the notion of any kind of conspiracy seems far-fetched compared with the much more likely scenario of a cock-up.


How confident can we be that the search operation is now being conducted in the right area?

Pretty confident. While some senior figures in aviation have questioned the accuracy of the analysis of the sparse satellite “ pings,” Inmarsat’s calculations have been cross checked by the UK’s Air Accident Investigations Branch, which is very highly regarded.

When will the black box “pinger” run out?

The flight data recorder, which contains details of the aircraft’p s performance and the pilots’ commands, and the cockpit voice recorder, are collectively known as the “black box”. International aviation rules stipulate that they must have enough battery life to transmit for up to 30 days, but in practice the duration is likely to be significantly longer.

They are now searching for the “black box” underwater. Does that mean they are getting close?

No, but since a “towed pinger locator” is available it is being deployed in the very slender hope that it might be able to pick up a signal. It is rather like throwing a dart at random at a board and hoping to hit a treble 20.

Shouldn’t the aircraft have other ways to reveal its location?

It does. Indeed, you may recall that last summer there was a fire at Heathrow on a parked and empty Boeing 787. It is believed to have started at an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) in the upper fuselage. But ELTs have to be activated, and for whatever reason this does not appear to have happened.

What scenarios can be ruled out?

In the first few hours after the disappearance was revealed, I drew up a range of possible explanations. Four weeks on, the spectrum of possibilities has hardly diminished. Some form of catastrophic airframe failure or a weather event looks most unlikely, but the possibility of the crew being incapacitated by smoke or depressurisation remains – as does the possibility that the jet was deliberately downed, whether by a hi-jacker or one of the pilots.

Why has no debris be found?

Some aviation figures have speculated that the aircraft did not simply run out of fuel and plunge into the Indian Ocean, but that it was deliberately ditched in such a way that would minimise the impact with the water surface and reduce the likelihood of widely spread debris field. However, it is also entirely plausible that in so wide an area, with very little shipping, the search teams have simply been unlucky.

Will it ever be?

There are thankfully few crashes involving large passenger aircraft over open seas (or anywhere else). But experience of the most comparable recent event - Air France 447, which was lost over the Atlantic in 2009 en route from Rio to Paris – suggests that some debris will turn up – perhaps washed up on a lonely beach in Western Australia.

How will onboard procedures change in future flights?

They are already changing. It is believed that Malaysia Airlines’g standard operating procedures now require a member of cabin crew to be in the cockpit if one of the pilots leaves the flight deck. Similar changes may be made on other airlines.

Will aircraft locations be more precisely recorded?

Yes. A key recommendation of the accident report into AF447 was that better identification of an aircraft’s location should be implemented. This is now likely to move ahead. There is also pressure for the information presently stored on the black box to be transmitted to the airline’s HQ – otherwise it is analogous to losing your laptop with all the back-up files on the same device.

Is it possible we will never know?

The mystery has so many strange dimensions that this cannot be ruled out. But given the vast resources that national governments and the aviation industry appear prepared to invest, the chances are that we will at least find out much more than we do now.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
News
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?