Missing Malaysian Flight MH370 Q&A: Has Malaysia been keeping information secret? Will they ever stop looking? And are the pilots involved or not?

 

Travel Correspondent

The disappearance of a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew aboard remains shrouded in uncertainty. With wildly differing theories about the loss of the Malaysia Airlines jet, the MH370 mystery is becoming to the early 21st century what the JFK assassination was to the 20th. We look at the key questions – and offer some cautious answers.

Has Malaysia been keeping information secret?

Information has certainly been ineptly managed since the Boeing 777 went missing on 8 March, but I have not seen convincing evidence that it has been deliberately withheld by Malaysia Airlines or the Malaysian government. They have both stressed the need to communicate openly with the relatives of the 239 people on board, but also to verify information before it has been released.

The key accusation that the Malaysians must answer, once the search is completed, is why it failed to act immediately on the key data supplied by Inmarsat about the jet’s last hours? The London-based firm told investigators of the vital information three days after the disappearance of the Beijing-bound flight. But it took a further four days before the futile search in the South China Sea was abandoned, and prolonged the unimaginable anguish of the relatives.

How significant is the lack of a distress signal from the pilots, and of evidence of passengers using their mobile phones?

Very significant. Starting on the flight deck: the order of priorities of any pilot is clear: aviate (ie keep the aircraft flying), navigate (achieve the desired course and altitude), communicate. If the crew were dealing with a complex and unforeseen problem, they would quite properly focus on the issue rather than contacting the ground or other aircraft. But it appears that a number of manoeuvres were performed that would seem to allow enough time for one or other pilot to broadcast a warning.

If passengers became aware of an unusual or sinister development, it is highly likely that at least some of them would switch on their mobile phones – a few of which would be expected to register on networks while briefly flying over the Malayan peninsula. But the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission reports no such contact. It is possible that passengers were unaware of the change in course, or that they were incapacitated, for example by depressurisation of the cabin.

Once the aircraft was some distance from land, any contact with ground stations would be impossible.

Were the pilots involved?

“Probably a suicidal pilot,” says the aviation expert Chris Yates. “I see no other conclusion to draw, other than a vague possibility that a passenger or passengers took control.” There has been much speculation about the backgrounds and states of mind of the captain and first officer. However, many other theories have been put forward. Could something as trivial as a spilt cup of coffee on the flight deck cause an electrical short circuit, which smouldered and produced enough smoke to overcame the pilots before they could broadcast a Mayday? Or could some other event have disabled the communications systems and incapacitated the flight crew?

Has hijacking/terrorism now been discounted?

The suicidal terrorism demonstrated to such deadly effect on 9/11 was aimed at mass murder and targeting iconic structures. Had these been the motives with MH370, then the obvious targets would be the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur - until a decade ago the tallest buildings in the world. Traditional hijacking involves the perpetrator demanding to be flown to a different destination, and does not usually result in the destruction of the aircraft. So unless a macabre new strain of evil has been devised, it is difficult to identify a motive. In addition, no credible claims have been made by any terrorist group for the loss of the jet.

Will they ever give up looking for the aircraft?

Compared with the search for traces of Air France flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic between Rio and Paris five years ago, looking for MH370 is an order of magnitude more difficult. The distance from the shore is much greater, the sea conditions much heavier and the clues about possible locations much less certain. It is an extraordinarily expensive business. But so much is riding on finding out what happens, that the search is likely to continue indefinitely. The need for some sort of closure for the relatives is clear. But the aviation community is also desperate to learn more – in case there is some previously unidentified issue with the aircraft, and to establish responsibility before the legal process begins.

If they find it, will they raise it?

Search teams will want to recover as much as possible of the debris, to get clues about the aircraft’s final moments – and the sequence of events that led to the loss. They will home in on the flight data recorder, which keeps details of commands from the flight deck, and the cockpit voice recorder. The latter, though, may not yield many clues since it has only a two-hour capacity, and therefore cannot reveal what happened over the Gulf of Thailand.

Has bad news about a crash been given by text message previously?

Not as far as I can tell – but there has never been an event like this. With the unexplained loss of a large passenger jet, we are in uncharted territory – or at least territory that has been uncharted for decades. Thankfully air disasters are so rare that “normal” is difficult to define. But in previous events, relatives have tended to learn the worse from the media, rather than the airline.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor