MH370 hunt may take ‘decades’, says MAS commercial chief

The Malay Mail Online
June 25, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — The search for flight MH370 which has been missing for more than three months could take “decades”, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) commercial chief Hugh Dunleavy has said.

In an interview with the London Evening Standard daily, Dunleavy said the wreckage from the Boeing 777 could be spread over a large area upon crashing into the southern Indian Ocean, a challenging seabed with mountains and valleys.

“I think it could take a really long time to find. We’re talking decades,” Dunleavy was quoted as saying in the interview published last Monday.

The British director of commercial operations in MAS also hit out at Putrajaya for taking a week to release information that the jetliner had been spotted on military radar when it veered off course and flew across the Malaysian peninsula.

“It made people look incompetent, but the truth is, it’s early in the morning, you’re not at war with anyone, why would you jump to the conclusion that something really bad is now transpiring?” said Dunleavy.

The 61-year-old, who became MAS’ commercial operations director in 2012, also said he only heard about the plane turning around on the news.

“I’m thinking, really? You couldn’t have told us that directly? Malaysia’s air traffic control and military radar are in the same freakin’ building. The military saw an aircraft turn and did nothing,” Dunleavy was quoted as saying

Shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, the commercial jet carrying 239 people was diverted from its intended flight path to Beijing and flew in a westerly direction across the Malaysian peninsula after dropping from civilian radar just before 1.30am.

Dunleavy defended the airline’s response in the early hours after the plane disappeared.

“People say, ‘Why didn’t you work quicker?’ But you’re calling pilots, explaining the situation, waiting for them to send out pings, doing the same to the next plane, then the next, and it’s four in the morning, you don’t have 50 people in the office, only a couple. An hour goes by frighteningly quickly — you realise that the missing plane is now another 600 miles somewhere else,” he said.

He also pointed out that an hour was wasted in verifying the initial rumour that the commercial jet had landed in Nanning, China.

Dunleavy said international air traffic controllers did not prioritise looking for the missing plane.

“We were calling, but they’ve got other planes in the air; they’re saying, ‘Your plane never entered my air space, so technically I don’t have to worry about it at the moment’. They’re not dropping everything to answer us,” he said.

The MAS commercial chief stressed that the airline had done the best it could for the relatives of the Chinese on board flight MH370, who comprised two-thirds of the 227 passengers, pointing out that their hotel rooms and food were paid for, besides arranging 520 passports, Malaysian visas and a plane to fly them to Kuala Lumpur, as well as giving the families US$5,000 (RM16,110) each.

MAS came under fire for sending text messages to the families of those on board flight MH370 that the plane was assumed lost and that there were no survivors, shortly before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement on March 24 that the plane had ended in the southern Indian Ocean based on satellite data.

“That wasn’t done in a callous way,” said Dunleavy.

“We only got 15 minutes’ notice that the government was going to make that announcement, there were six hundred people in six different hotels, and they had suggested text messages to us at the start. We thought, ‘isn’t it better they get the message before the media relays it?” he added.

The UK daily also reported that MAS will install this year pioneering technology from British satellite firm Inmarsat that would enable a signal to be sent out if a plane deviated from its flight path.

“We will always remember MH370. We will take care of the people and we’re working on what sort of a memorial we will have. But we are a business. We have to keep flying, we have 20,000 staff, shareholders, and 50,000 passengers each day. We owe it to them to get the airline back and move beyond MH370,” said Dunleavy.

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