Missing Flight MH370: The mystery deepens with no end in sight

 

Travel Correspondent

When the boss of a major international airline is obliged to make an official announcement of “business as usual”, it is a sure sign that not all is well.

This week Malaysia Airlines issued a statement to the world insisting that "the national carrier will not shut-down its operations on 28 May 2014, as rumoured”. The statement blamed predictions of its demise on “quotes from unofficial sources”. The carrier’s chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said “We are running business as usual, and passengers should not worry.”

As every Malaysia Airlines executive, staff member and passenger is intensely aware, 12 weeks ago the greatest aviation mystery of the millennium was about to begin.

Late in the evening of 7 March, 227 passengers checked in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a routine Malaysian Airlines departure to Beijing. Two pilots – Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid – and 10 cabin crew were rostered to work the Boeing 777 flight to the Chinese capital.

The last confirmed position of the aircraft was 40 minutes into the flight, as it flew at 35,000 feet above the South China Sea. Countless scenarios have been devised to explain what happened next, why the aircraft's transponder ceased transmissions and why no distress calls were made.

 

Shortly after midnight GMT on 8 March, Malaysia Airlines announced that one of its planes was missing. Ever since, the search has been characterised by false alarms and, most painfully for the relatives of passengers and crew, false hope.

Early reports suggested the aircraft had landed at Nanning in southern China. As the worried relatives of the 152 Chinese passengers gathered at Beijing’s Capital Airport, it became clear that these were mistaken. A week later, in what remains the most dramatic twist so far, Malaysia’s prime minister announced that British scientists had analysed “pings” received by an Inmarsat satellite and concluded the aircraft could be anywhere on an arc of territory from the southern Indian Ocean to the shores of the Caspian Sea – once again raising the hopes of relatives that the passengers might be alive, only for them to be dashed again when further analysis indicated the aircraft took the southern track.

Responsibility for the search landed on the desk of Martin Dolan, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. This week, he concluded: “It is now highly unlikely that surface debris from the aircraft will be spotted. This means that the most effective way to continue the search is to look for MH370 under the water.”

Yet the past six weeks of intensive, expensive searching a patch of ocean may have been squandered. Just as the raw data from the first set of “pings” received by the Inmarsat satellite, was released to the relatives, an entirely separate set of signals now appears to have been a false positive.

The US Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering, Michael Dean, said that the source of the pings was the device itself or an associated vessel. It is now accepted that the battery powering the aircraft's beacon will now have expired, and that the next phase of operation will involve grimly tedious sweeps across a swathe of ocean almost as large as Ireland.

Mr Dolan said: “The search will be a major undertaking. The complexities and challenges involved are immense, but not impossible. The best minds from around the world have been reviewing, refining and localising the most likely area where the aircraft entered the water, which is why we remain confident of finding the aircraft.”

As the cost of the search operation increases, the wisdom of prolonging the investigation has been called into question. The humane aspect, enabling relatives to obtain closure, remains a sufficient justification for many. But there is also a financial dimension, as a contributor to the pilots’ forum, PPrune, posted: “The eventual cost of losing an aircraft full of passengers probably won't leave much change from a billion dollars. So it's worth spending at least tens of millions to try to ensure it doesn't happen again.”

The commercial impact on the airline and Malaysia itself is becoming clear. The aviation consultant, John Strickland, said: “Malaysia Airlines was already suffering with significant losses and this incident has only compounded that. Confidence of Chinese travellers has been hit, an important part of Malaysian's business, and this has essentially been lost.”

There is also intense anger in the People’s Republic at the perceived mis-handling of the unfolding tragedy by the Malaysian government, particularly with the conflicting and incomplete information provided at the start of the investigation. Malaysia's tourism industry is braced for a fall in bookings.

The longer the mystery of MH370 continues, the wider the repercussions.

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
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

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?