03 April 2014
With as little as two days left in which to recover the black box of Flight MH370, Malaysian police have warned that the mystery of the plane’s disappearance nearly four weeks ago may never be solved.
The country’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who visited the headquarters of the multinational search in Perth today, promised relatives of the 239 passengers and crew that “we will not rest until answers are… found”. However, batteries in the locator beacons of flight recorders only last about 30 days, which means MH370′s will die next Monday, or even this weekend.
The hunt for wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 continued in the Indian Ocean, with two British Royal Navy vessels joining seven other ships and eight planes. But since the search switched to the remote waters a fortnight ago, not a single piece of debris linked to the doomed flight has been found, despite exhaustive efforts.
Police, meanwhile, have yet to make any progress with their criminal investigation. Malaysia’s most senior police officer, Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar, said that every possible angle was being scrutinised, including whether meals served during the Beijing-bound flight had been poisoned.
Officers were also scrutinising the provenance of every piece of cargo – even a consignment of mangosteens, an Asian tropical fruit. “We had to find out where the mangosteens came from,” said Mr Khalid. “We tracked down who plucked the fruits, who packed them and shipped them out, who put them on the plane. Imagine how many people we must interview, and that was just the mangosteens.”
The enormity of the task facing search teams was acknowledged by Mr Najib, who described it as “a gargantuan challenge”, and by the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who called the search “the most difficult in human history”.
While Mr Abbott, who hosted his Malaysian counterpart in Perth, said that Australia was “throwing everything we have at it”, he also warned that “we cannot be certain of ultimate success” – a contrast with previous statements in which he pledged that if there was wreckage to be found, Australia would find it.
The search force was bolstered by Britain’s HMS Echo and HMS Tireless, the latter a nuclear-powered submarine with advanced underwater search capability. The hope is that it may detect signals emitted by MH370′s black box – the flight data and cockpit voice recorders which hold the key to why the plane diverted radically off course soon after leaving Kuala Lumpur on 8 March.
Also on its way to the search zone, which was refined today to about 1,680 kilometres north-west of Perth, is the Ocean Shield, an Australian warship carrying a US-supplied black box detector. However, experts have warned that the device will be of little use unless the crash site can be identified much more precisely.
The failure to find any debris – and the imminent black box deadline – are exacerbating the anguish of relatives. “I know that until we find the plane, many families cannot start to grieve,” Mr Najib said. “I cannot imagine what they must be going through. But I can promise them that we will not give up.”
Selamat Omar, whose 29-year-old son, Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat, was on the plane, told Australia’s ABC radio that he was still hoping he was alive. “After such a long time, they could not find any object [wreckage], even with the expertise of the helpers,” he said. “We are sure that there is hope of life.”
Mr Khalid, though, warned that “at the end of the investigations, we may not even know the real cause… the reason for this incident”.