By Justin Ong
The Malay Mail Online
March 12, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — With the clock ticking away on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, efforts to locate the inexplicably missing plane appear to be going farther astray with each new clue.
What was first thought to be a clear-cut search and rescue mission has now become a conundrum that has “puzzled” investigators with the inability of the nearly 100 air and sea vessels from 10 countries to locate a shred of evidence of the plane’s whereabouts.
At over 63 metres long and weighing nearly 140 tonnes unladen, the Boeing 777-200ER should have left debris all over miles of ocean, but four days after its disappearance, not a single piece of the aircraft or its contents has been recovered.
“The lack of debris is more perplexing than anything else … the floating pieces should be there, and they’re not,” Bill Waldock, a safety expert and crash investigator from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told US daily Wall Street Journal
Shortly after midnight on Saturday, MH370 left Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing with 239 onboard. It ascended to its cruising altitude of over 10km without any reported incident, before ground radar tracking it to somewhere off the coast of Kelantan lost sight of the plane.
The pilots never made a distress call and the two emergency locator beacons (ELT) that would have been activated in the event the Boeing 777-200ER went down have remained eerily silent.
Malaysian aviation regulators have dubbed its disappearance an “unprecedented mystery”, and it appears every new purported discovery stretches search resources thinner and thinner.
Search was initially centred on a 50-mile radius in the so-called Checkpoint Igari between Malaysia and Vietnam, but reported debris sightings — all of which proved to be false alarms — have forced the search team to cast their net wider and wider; now, the search zone encompasses an area twice the size of the original.
Then the Malaysian military drops a bombshell: It says its radar observed MH370 heading back the way it came. In response, rescuers were forced to deploy another team to the Strait of Malacca, on the opposite side of the country.
While rescuers are grappling with the “where” in the mystery of MH370, investigators are also no closer to “how” it seemingly vanished from thin air.
Shortly after it disappeared, news surfaced that at least two individuals had boarded using passports stolen from an Italian and an Austrian. Coupled with the recent separatist unrest stemming from China’s Xinjiang region, signs began to point to possible foul play.
A Malaysian official then sent the rumour mill into overdrive when he expressed consternation over the failure of Immigration officers to flag men with “Asian features” using passports with European names.
Interpol, meanwhile, expressed “great concern” that the two stolen passports were used to board MH370.
But yesterday the theory was unravelled when Malaysian authorities and Interpol released the identities of the two men — Iranians Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza — who now are believed to be asylum seekers or human trafficking subjects trying to smuggle themselves into Frankfurt, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark.
“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it (MH370) was not a terrorist incident,” Ronald K. Noble, head of Interpol, told reporters in Paris yesterday.
More obscure theories about MH370 flying below radar to evade detection was also rubbished by an aviation specialist, who explained that the ubiquity of observer stations, both civilian and military, along the many borders where the plane disappeared precluded such an aerial feat.
“With so many borders around and countries around the sea, it is impossible to skip all the radars,” Frost and Sullivan Asia Pacific aerospace and defence consultant Ravi Madavaram told The Malay Mail Online in an email interview.
As hours turn into days, aviation observers are increasingly drawing parallels between MH370 and the 2009 disaster of the Air France flight AF447 headed from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris. Like the MAS flight, AF447 disappeared without a single squawk of distress.
But more unnerving for families hoping for quick closure is the implication of how long the search may take: AF447 went down in June 2009 and the wreckage was not recovered until May 2011.
For now, the similarities being drawn will be of concern for rescuers racing against the clock to reach MH370 and any possible survivors nearly four days after it would have run out of fuel.
“The way that we in the Navy look at this is that for the first 72 hours, we consider it still a search mission for survivors,” Cmdr William Marks of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet now aiding search efforts told the New York Times about how long such efforts should continue.
Marks explained that survivors have been known to “make it at least that long”.
“After that, it’s at the decision of the Malaysian government what they want us to do, and where they want us to be,” he added.