A bombshell was dropped on the grieving families and loved ones of the 239 passengers and crew, Malaysians and the world on the 34th day of MH370’s disappearance – CNN report last night that the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) had scrambled its search aircraft on the morning of the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 737 at around 8 am, but did not inform authorities until three days later and the denial by the Defence Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein.
Quoting a senior Malaysian government official and another source involved in the investigation, CNN reported last night that “Malaysian air force search aircraft were scrambled around 8am, soon after Malaysia Airlines (MAS) reported that its plane was missing early March 8.”
It reported that aircraft were scrambled before authorities could corroborate data indicating the Boeing 777 turned westward from its northbound flight path.
The unnamed source stated RMAF had “not informed the Department of Civil Aviation or search and rescue operations until three days later, March 11″.
It further reported Flight MH 370 disappeared from military radar for some 120 nautical miles after it crossed back over Peninsular Malaysia.
“Based on available data, this means the plane must have dipped in altitude to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet,” claimed the senior government official.
Hishammuddin has denied the CNN report, describing it as “a false allegation”.
Who is right, Hishammuddin or CNN?
Unless CNN is prepared to name the “senior Malaysian government official and another source” to substantiate its report, it would be difficult for anyone to accept it as gospel truth.
But the bare denial by Hishammuddin, after the drips and drabs of information being doled out; clarifications, confusions and contradictions; frequent twists and turns and “flip-flops” and the vast “black holes” in information in the past 35 days of the MH370 disaster is just not adequate, satisfactory or acceptable.
If an opposition-headed Parliamentary Select Committee on the MH 370 has been set up before the Dewan Rakyat adjourned yesterday, it would be a proper body to investigate into the veracity or otherwise of the CNN report that Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) had scrambled its search aircraft on the morning of the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, but did not inform the authorities until three days later, and come out with a credible and authoritative report to back Hishammuddin’s denial and put all doubts on the matter to rest.
In fact, the Parliamentary Select Committee could not only inquire whether RMAF had scrambled search aircraft on the morning of March 8 at about 8 am, but also:
- whether or why there was no scrambling of RMAF search aircraft when the military radar tracked MH370 as having diverted from its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, when in the first few minutes between 1.40 and 1.45 am, at least two RMAF Sukhoi-30s from Gong Kedak could have been scrambled to intercept the jetliner in Kelantan airspace; and
- why a second chance was lost to intercept the plane when it approached Penang and it was picked up on the military radar in Butterworth, although the RMAF with its F/A squadron was on 24-hour standby at the airbase.
These and many other questions have been waiting for answer in the past 35-days of the MH 370 disaster, but as I said in Parliament in the presence of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Hishammuddin on March 25 (18th Day), I agree that the utmost priority must continue to be given to SAR – search and rescue – operation and the many questions that have arisen about the whole tragedy, including the crisis management, can wait until the discovery of the aircraft and hopefully, the passengers and crew on board.
This is now 35th Day of the MH370 disaster. I have just received reports that a Perth radio station has announced “Unconfirmed report says Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 black box has been found”, and quoting an aviation expert as saying that if these “unconfirmed reports are firm enough to say we have located the black box, that is enough for them to launch the Bluefin 21 to go down to the bottom and take photographs or scan the bottom with a sonar scanner”.
I hope this is not another false alarm as the families of the 239 passengers and crew are awaiting for a closure.
However, after 35 days of the MH370 disaster, I believe we have come to a stage where even the families and loved ones of the 239 passengers and crew on board MH370 would want answers to all the thousand-and-one questions that have surfaced about the whole tragedy instead of waiting for a finality and full closure of the tragedy with the discovery of the black box or wreckage, and this process of finding answers to these questions should begin without any delay.
In these circumstances, the CNN report and Hishammudin’s denial that RMAF had scrambled search aircraft on morning of March 8 had fuelled further doubts about government’s readiness to be fully transparent following the reneging of promises to brief Pakatan Rakyat MPs and refusal to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee on MH370.
For these reasons, I would call on the Prime Minister to honour his word that Malaysia has nothing to hide by honouring two broken promises so far – an authoritative briefing to Pakatan Rakyat MPs on the MH370 tragedy and the establishment of an Opposition-headed Parliamentary Select Committee on MH 370 tragedy.
(Media Conference Statement in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 12 noon)