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.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick