New Zealand Herald
Jun 4, 2014
A British woman who was sailing near Indonesia at the time Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared says she believes she saw the plane “burning” and billowing smoke before it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
An eye-witness account from yachting enthusiast Katherine Tee, 41, has now been filed with the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) leading the search, based in Australia, which is yet to find any trace of the missing jet.
In her account, Ms Tee has described seeing “an elongated plane glowing bright orange, with a trail of black smoke behind it”, heading from north to south.
The object was flying at “about half the height” of two other flights in the same patch of sky at the time, she said, in a series of posts detailing the sighting on the yachting website Cruisers Forum, where Ms Tee is a moderator.
She later told the Phuket Gazette that she initially dismissed the incident as being “just a meteor” or even a figment of her imagination – until a recent check of GPS logs confirmed that the plane’s projected track may have taken it very close to where the yacht was sailing at the time.
Ms Tee’s 50-year-old husband Marc posted the data maps from their journey to the forum, where other members suggested it was very possible she could have been the last person to see the plane before it headed south into very remote seas.
“This is what convinced me to file a report with the full track data for our voyage to the relevant authorities,” she said.
As for whether or not what Ms Tee saw really was a burning plane, she has admitted on the forum that she was going through a particularly stressful part of the journey at the time, including difficulties in her marriage, and that her judgement may have been impaired.
“I saw something that looked like a plane on fire. That’s what I thought it was. Then, I thought I must be mad… It caught my attention because I had never seen a plane with orange lights before, so I wondered what they were,” she said.
“There were two other planes passing well above it – moving the other way – at that time. They had normal navigation lights. I remember thinking that if it was a plane on fire that I was seeing, the other aircraft would report it.”
When the pair arrived in Phuket everyone was talking about the missing jet, and asked if they had seen anything. Ms Tee said she told them what had happened, but that she “didn’t think anyone would believe me when I was having trouble believing my own eyes”.
“I didn’t even consider putting out a Mayday at the time. Imagine what an idiot I would have looked like if I was mistaken, and I believed I was.”
She has now filed two reports to the JACC, which she said had replied to say her data logs would be looked into. The Phuket Gazette reported that officials are yet to confirm the account will be investigated in full.
Ms Tee said the best she hoped for in coming forward was that she might help narrow down the search effort and see the plane recovered sooner.
“Will this help the authorities of the families get closure? I have no idea,” she said.
“All I can confirm is that I have since learnt that we were in the right place at the right time, so it seems possible, but I chose to sweep it under the carpet and now I feel really bad.
“Maybe I should have had a little more confidence in myself. I am sorry I didn’t take action sooner.”
– The Independent