Whoever was at the controls of MH370 when it disappeared a year ago wanted to evade detection. The interim report into the loss of the Boeing 777 and its 239 occupants shows the culprit was inadvertently helped by mistakes in the airline’s duty office.
The Malaysia transport ministry released the report on the anniversary of the disappearance of the scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
A damning transcript of conversations in the hours after the plane vanished shows that, long after contact was lost, Malaysia Airlines insisted that the aircraft was flying over Cambodia - a story that was later changed to suggest it was east of Vietnam’s coast.
The transcript with air-traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur is an appendix to the interim report into the loss of MH370 with its 227 passengers and 12 crew. The transcript reveals how the events unfolded through the early hours of 8 March last year, after the captain signed off from Malaysian air-traffic controllers with the words “Goodnight Malaysian Three Seven Zero” at 1.19am local time.
The aircraft was expected to continue flying north at 35,000 feet and to make contact with controllers at Ho Chi Minh City. But its transponder was turned off by someone on the flight deck, rendering the plane invisible to civilian radar. One Vietnamese controller says:
“We just see him on the radar screen one time and after a few minutes later disappear.”
Forty-five minutes after the final contact, Vietnamese controllers are growing increasingly concerned about the flight, but were told by their Malaysian counterparts: “The aircraft is still flying, is over somewhere over Cambodia”. That information had come from the Malaysia Airlines operations centre.
Further reassurance is given around 2.35am when controllers in Kuala Lumpur tell Ho Chi Minh City staff that Malaysia Airlines is still in communication with the jet: “Affirm Malaysian 370 still flying aircraft keep sending position report to the airline.” The reported position, though, changes to latitude 14.9N and 109E, placing the jet somewhere east of Vietnam.
At the Malaysia Airlines operations centre, a hurried and misspelt message is sent to flight MH370 asking the pilots to contact air-traffic controllers at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam:
“Urgent request. Pls contact Ho Chi Ming ATC ASAP. They complain cannot track you on their radar.”
This message was never received.
At the time the jet was still airborne, but had turned west to fly over northern Malaysia and the island of Penang - as revealed by later examination of military radar data. Had a distress phase been declared sooner, and the authorities alerted to the disappearance while the jet was still being tracked by military radar, the aircraft might have been intercepted.
Richard Quest, CNN aviation correspondent, said: “Prompt action would have let us know the plane’s location. There were plenty of missed chances.”
Much attention has focused on Captain Zaharie Shah, with a number of theories asserting he was involved in the disappearance. But the report has analysed CCTV footage of the captain immediately before the flight, and compared it with corresponding footage for his three previous departures: “The gait, posture, facial expressions and mannerism were his normal characteristics.” It also says: “There were no significant changes in his life style, interpersonal conflict or family stresses.”
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