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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    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"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    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
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    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