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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride