Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – Updates


Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370), also marketed as China Southern AirlinesFlight 748 (CZ748/CSN748) through a codeshare, was a scheduled passenger flight fromKuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. On 8 March 2014, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER operating the flight disappeared with 227 passengers of 15 nationalities and 12 crew members on board, following its last contact with air traffic control less than an hour after take-off.

A joint search-and-rescue effort covering an area of 27,000 sq nmi (93,000 km2; 36,000 sq mi) in the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea[1][2] is being conducted by more than 12 countries. Vietnam briefly reduced its efforts on 11 March, but the search area continued to expand and searchers began to look for evidence on land. On 12 March, authorities also began to search the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Strait of Malacca.[3][4][5][6]

Two passengers who boarded the aircraft using stolen passports initially raised concerns of a terrorist plot.[7] Malaysian police identified both passengers, and said they were unlikely to be terrorists.[8]

Communication between official representatives of many organisations and the public regarding the loss of the flight has been imprecise, incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate[9]amidst continuing doubt about the aircraft’s possible location and trajectory.[10][11]

On 12 March The Wall Street Journal cited sources in the US government to claim that engine data automatically transmitted by the aircraft indicated that it remained airborne for a total of about five hours. US investigators were said to suspect the aircraft had been deliberately diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”[12] However, on 13 March the Malaysian transport minister declared those reports inaccurate and stated that the last engine data transmission was received at 01:07.[13]

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Incident 

The flight departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 8 March at 00:41 local time (16:41 UTC, 7 March) and was scheduled to land atBeijing Capital International Airport at 06:30 local time (22:30 UTC, 7 March). It ascended to its assigned cruise altitude of 35,000 feet (10,700 m) and was travelling at 471 knots (542 mph; 872 km/h) true airspeed when it ceased all communications and the transponder signal was lost. The aircraft’s last known position was 6°55′15″N 103°34′43″E, corresponding to the navigational waypoint IGARI, at which the aircraft was due to alter its course slightly eastward. The aircraft was also expected to contact air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City as it passed into Vietnamese airspace just north of the point where contact was lost.[14][15] The New Straits Times reported on 9 March that the captain of another aircraft had attempted to reach the pilots of MH370 “just after 1:30 am” to relay Vietnamese Air Traffic Control’s request for MH370 to contact it. The captain said he was able to establish contact but just heard “mumbling” and static.[16]

Malaysia Airlines issued a media statement at 07:24 confirming that contact had been lost at 02:40 and that search-and-rescue operations had begun.[17] It later emerged that Subang Air Traffic Control had lost contact with the aircraft at 01:22 and notified Malaysia Airlines at 02:40.[18]Neither the crew nor the aircraft’s onboard communication systems relayed a distress signal, indications of bad weather, or technical problems before vanishing from radar screens.[19]

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The airline reported in its eleventh press release that all of its aircraft are fitted with an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), a system that automatically transmits data about the status of the aircraft, but added “Nevertheless, there were no distress calls and no information was relayed.”[20] When Malaysian officials were asked by a Flightglobal reporter if they had any ACARS information or not, the officials declined to comment.[21] The New Scientist nonetheless reported that prior to the aircraft’s disappearance, two ACARS reports had been automatically issued to engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce‘s monitoring center in the United Kingdom;[22] and a Wall Street Journalstory, citing sources in the US government, said that Rolls-Royce had received an aircraft health report every thirty minutes for five hours, implying that the aircraft had remained in the air for four hours after its transponder went offline. The Journal also cited an official to state that US investigators were proceeding on the assumption that the aircraft had been diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”[12] The Malaysian transport minister declared such reports inaccurate during the subsequent 13 March daily press briefing, stating that the final engine transmission was received at 01:07, prior to the flight’s disappearance from secondary radar.[13]

Location

 

Route. Start: Kuala Lumpur, destination: Beijing. A:Andaman Sea, G: Gulf of Thailand. S: South China Sea.

The search efforts generated multiple false leads. An admiral of the Vietnamese Navyreported that radar contact with the aircraft was last made over the Gulf of Thailand, but it transpired that this result corresponded to the loss of radar contact by Subang air traffic control rather than the discovery of a crash site.[18] Oil slicks were located off the coast of Vietnam on 8 and 9 March and were thought to have possibly arisen from the aircraft. Test results reported on 10 March indicated that the oil slicks did not contain aviation fuel.[23][24] There were reports that a door or other fragment of the aircraft was found about 80 km (50 mi) south of Thổ Chu Island on 9 March. The following day, the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia reported these claims were untrue; the floating material was not from an aircraft.[25]

The Royal Thai Navy shifted its focus in the search away from the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea at the request of its Malaysian counterpart, which is investigating the possibility the aircraft turned around and could have gone down in theAndaman Sea, near Thailand’s border.[26] The chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, Rodzali Daud, claimed that military recordings of radar signals did not exclude the possibility of the aircraft turning back on its flight path.[27][28] The search radius has been increased from the original 20 nautical miles (37 km; 23 mi) of its last known position,[29] south of Thổ Chu Island, to 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi), and the area now covers the seas to the Strait of Malacca along the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, with waters both to the east of Malaysia in the South China Sea, and in the Strait of Malacca along Malaysia’s west coast, being searched.[30][2][31]

On 11 March, it was reported that military radar indicated the aircraft turned west and continued flying for 70 minutes before disappearing nearPulau Perak;[32][33] and that it was tracked flying at a lower altitude across Malaysia to the Malacca Strait. This last location is approximately 500 km (311 mi) from its last position in contact with air traffic control.[34] The next day Rodzali Daud denied making the statements as reported in the media, requesting that the misreporting be “amended and corrected to prevent further misinterpretations of what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report”.[35][36] Vietnam scaled back its search operations to await clarification from Malaysia due to the conflicting reports.[37]

On 12 March, authorities also began to search the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Strait of Malacca, and the Malaysian government requested help from India to search in the area.[38] China released satellite images captured three days earlier that show three floating objects measuring up to 24 by 22 metres (79 ft × 72 ft) at 6.7°N 105.63°E.[39][40] It turned out there were no floating objects on the suspected crash area.[41][42]The area, according to Vietnamese officials, had been “searched thoroughly” by Vietnam and other countries but it is to be revisited.[43][44] The same day, a New Zealand man working on an oil rig in the South China Sea claimed he had seen the aircraft “burning at high altitude … in one piece” about 50 to 70 kilometres (31 to 43 mi) from his location around the time it disappeared.[45] DigitalGlobe, a satellite imaging business, released to the public all available images of the flight path[46] and search area for the public to look for and tag any images they believe may assist in the search.[47]

Participation

Australian RAAF AP-3C Orions are participating in the search.

Chinese transport dock Kunlun Shan.

In response to the incident, the Malaysian government mobilised its civil aviation department, air force, navy, and Maritime Enforcement Agency; and requested international assistance under Five Power Defence Arrangements provisions and from neighbouring states. Various nations mounted a search and rescue mission in the region’s waters.[48][49] The countries have dispatched more than 34 aircraft and 40 ships to the area.[3][2][31] Qatar offered assistance, and the French agency for investigating aircraft crashes, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA), offered to help with any underwater search and recovery operation.[50][51] TheComprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission tried, but failed, to use its network of infrasound detection stations to find any sounds made by Flight 370.[52] Types of assets sent by different nations include:

Aircraft

The cockpit of 9M-MRO in 2004

Flight 370 was operated by a Boeing 777-2H6ER,[a] serial number 28420, registration 9M-MRO. The 404th Boeing 777 produced, it first flew on 14 May 2002, and was delivered new to Malaysia Airlines on 31 May 2002. The aircraft was powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines,[88] and was configured to carry 282 passengers: 35 in business class and 247 in economy class.[89] According to the airline, it had accumulated 53,460 hours and 7,525 cycles in service.[90] 9M-MRO had not previously been involved in any major incidents;[91] a minor incident while taxiing at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in August 2012 resulted in significant damage to one of its wingtips, which broke off after striking the tail of another airliner.[92] Its last maintenance ‘A’ check was carried out on 23 February 2014.[90]

The Boeing 777 is generally regarded by aviation experts as having an “almost flawless” safety record,[93] one of the best of any commercial aircraft.[94] Since its first commercial flight in June 1995, there have only been two previous serious accidents. In January 2008, 47 passengers were injured when ice crystals in the fuel system of British Airways Flight 38 caused it to lose power and crash-land just short of the runway at London Heathrow Airport. In July 2013, three passengers died and 181 were injured whenAsiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport.[95] Both aircraft were damaged beyond repair.[96]

In 2005 a Boeing 777-2H6ER aircraft with the registration 9M-MRG, serial number 28414, operating as Malaysia Airlines Flight 124 flying fromPerth to Kuala Lumpur experienced an ADIRU (air data inertial reference unit) fault resulting in uncommanded manoeuvres by the aircraft acting on false indications.[97] In that incident the incorrect data impacted all planes of movement while the aircraft was climbing through 38,000 feet (11,600 m). The aircraft pitched up and climbed to around 41,000 feet (12,500 m), with the stall warning activated. The pilots recovered the aircraft with the autopilot disengaged and requested a return to Perth. During the return to Perth, both the left and right autopilots were briefly activated by the crew, but in both instances the aircraft pitched down and banked to the right. The aircraft was flown manually for the remainder of the flight and landed safely in Perth. There were no injuries and no damage to the aircraft. The ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) found that the main probable cause of this incident was a latent software error which allowed the ADIRU to use data from a failedaccelerometer.[98] The US Federal Aviation Administration issued Emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) 2005-18-51 requiring all 777 operators to install upgraded software to resolve the error.[99]

Passengers and crew

Nationalities of people aboard Flight 370
Nationality Pass. Crew Total
 Australia 6   6
 Canada 2   2
 China 152   152
 France 4   4
 Hong Kong[100] 1   1
 India 5   5
 Indonesia 7   7
 Iran[b] 2   2
 Malaysia 38 12 50
 Netherlands 1   1
 New Zealand 2   2
 Russia 1   1
 Taiwan 1   1
 Ukraine 2   2
 United States 3   3
Total (15 nationalities) 227 12 239

Malaysia Airlines released the names and nationalities of the 227 passengers and 12 crew, based on the flight manifest.[102]

Crew

All the crew members were Malaysian. The flight’s captain was 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah of Penang; he joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had 18,365 hours of flying experience.[103] Zaharie was also an examiner qualified to conduct simulator tests for pilots.[104] His first officer was 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, an employee of Malaysia Airlines since 2007, with 2,763 flying hours.[105][106] Fariq was transitioning to the Boeing 777-200 after completing his simulator training.[106]

Passengers

The majority of the passengers (152 of 227) were Chinese citizens, which included a group of 19 artists with 6 family members and 4 staff, returning from a calligraphy exhibition of their work in Kuala Lumpur; 38 passengers were Malaysian. The remaining passengers came from 13 different countries.[107] Of these, 20 were employees of Freescale Semiconductor, a company based in Austin, Texas – 12 were from Malaysia and 8 from China.[108]

Malaysia Airlines sent a team of caregivers and volunteers to provide assistance towards family members of the passengers.[109] In its press releases, the carrier stated that it would bear the expenses of bringing family members of the passengers to Kuala Lumpur and providing them with accommodation, medical care, and counselling.[110] Altogether, 115 family members of the Chinese passengers flew to Kuala Lumpur.[111] Other family members chose to remain in China, fearing they would feel too isolated in Malaysia.[112] The airline offered an ex gratia condolence payment of US$5,000 to the family of each passenger,[113] but relatives considered the conditions unacceptable and asked the airline to review them.[114]

Investigation

Boeing has announced that it is assembling a team of experts to provide technical assistance to investigators,[115] in accordance withInternational Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) protocols. In addition, the United States National Transportation Safety Board announced in an 8 March press release that a team of investigators had been sent along with technical advisers from the Federal Aviation Administration to offer assistance in the investigation.[84] The country that will lead the investigation will not be determined until the missing aircraft is found.[116]Because a formal (ICAO-sanctioned) investigation has not yet kicked off, co-operation and co-ordination between involved parties could suffer, there being “a risk that crucial early detective work could be hampered, and potential clues and records lost”, according to experts.[117]

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has deployed technical experts and agents to investigate the disappearance.[118] A senior US law enforcement official clarified that FBI agents were not sent to Malaysia.[119] United States and Malaysian officials are reviewing the entire passenger manifest in addition to the two passengers who were confirmed as possessing stolen passports.[120]

Stolen passports

Two of the passengers were travelling with passports stolen from citizens of European countries. Two men identified on the manifest, a 30-year-old Austrian and a 37-year-old Italian, had reported their passports stolen in 2012 and 2013, respectively.[18][121] Interpol stated that both passports were listed on its database of lost and stolen passports, but that no check had been made against its database, noting that very few countries consistently use the database.[122][123] Malaysia’s Home Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, criticised his country’s immigration officials for failing to stop the passengers travelling on the stolen European passports.[123]

The two one-way tickets purchased for the holders of the stolen passports were booked through China Southern Airlines.[124] It was reported that an Iranian had ordered the cheapest tickets to Europe via telephone. The tickets were paid for in cash.[125][126][127] A Thai police chief suggested that the tickets were bought for illegal Iranian migrants.[128] The two passengers were later identified as Iranian men, one aged 19 and the other 29, who both entered Malaysia on 28 February using valid Iranian passports. The head of Interpol said they were “inclined to conclude that it was not a terrorist incident”.[7][101][129][130] The two men were believed to be asylum seekers.[131][132]

Responses

Criticism of official communication

Communication between official representatives of many organisations and the public regarding the loss of the flight has been beset with confusion. The New York Times noted that the Malaysian government and the airline released imprecise, incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate information, with civilian officials sometimes contradicting military leaders.[9] The Daily Beast suggested that nobody was co-ordinating information.[133] David Learmount, operations and safety editor at Flightglobal, a news and data service for the aviation sector, said the Malaysian government seemed evasive and confused.[9] There are doubts concerning the aircraft’s possible location and trajectory.[10][11][134] Australian crisis management expert Mike Smith believes that although the initial stages had been well-managed by Malaysia Airlines, the increasing numbers of government officials commenting publicly created confusion. Smith suggested that, as the disappearance became of international concern, the Malaysian government failed to take control and to establish an emergency crisis control point where the information could be disseminated in a responsible and truthful manner. Smith pointed to contradictions, apparent “finger-pointing, rumours and innuendo … from Malaysian officials, whose motives we can only speculate about”.[135]

The Daily Beast observed that the confusion is related to the strength of the military over civilian authority, and where the military either controls or has strong influence over radar coverage and air traffic control, that “there is no coherent system that swings into action in a disaster, no playbook to operate by and no experience of dealing with the public consequences.”[133]

Airline

Malaysia Airlines stated it would retire the flight numbers MH370 and MH371 as of 14 March 2014, replaced by MH318 and MH319 respectively.[136]

Notes

  1. Jump up^ The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER (for Extended Range) model; Boeing assigns a unique customer code for each company that buys one of its aircraft, which is applied as a suffix to the model number at the time the aircraft is built. The code for Malaysia Airlines is “H6”, hence “777-2H6ER”.[87]
  2. Jump up^ The manifest released by Malaysia Airlines lists an Austrian and an Italian. These have since been identified as two Iranian nationals who boarded Flight 370 using stolen passports.[101]

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  136. Jump up^ Anwar, Zafira; Nambiar, Predeep “MISSING MH370: MAS changes flight number for KL-Beijing-KL flights”New Straits Times.
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