Update: Airline corrects last time of contact
The search and recovery focus for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is now firmly concentrated on the unidentified fuel or hydraulic fluid slicks seen in the Gulf of Thailand late yesterday close to the last radar trace of the 777-200, which was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
(There were six Australians on the manifest).
Various authorities have also confirmed the detective work done by the Aviation Herald, which much earlier than official confirmations late yesterday had identified a point of last radar contact 42 minutes after MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur’s main airport at 12.40 am local time for a five hours 50 minutes journey to Beijing that was to have arrived at 6.30 am (same time zone) yesterday morning.
The airline had earlier said the flight vanished from ATC visibility two hours after departure at 2.40 am local time, but it has now corrected the public record to say last contact was at 1.30 am, which puts it in synch with a New Straits Times report that another airliner had made and then lost radio contact at that earlier time using the emergency broadcast frequency.
This means that the Malaysia Airlines flight was last seen by radar at 1.22 am local time and last heard on radio at 1.30 am. However this doesn’t add to public understanding as what the behaviour of the flight was in those last eight minutes between last radar and last voice, although it might encourage speculation that an attempted hijack was underway.
As earlier reported today, it is now established that no emergency locator beacon signal has been heard. Such a signal is generated by blunt force. However if the beacon is underwater, or under mud on the floor of the Gulf of Thailand it might not be readily heard over significant distances.
Sadly it is overwhelmingly likely that all on board the 777-200 died in the crash. Many aspects of the last moments of the flight remain unresolved, and this may well be the case until the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder are recovered from the sea bed at a point somewhere between the northern corner of the Malaysia peninsula and the southern tip of Vietnam.
There is a high degree of confidence that the ‘black box’ data and voice recorders will be recovered, and successfully read.
Other elements of the earlier intelligence collected by Aviation Herald include references to a very steep descent and change of heading by MH370 at the moment of last confirmed radar contacts, or, that the flight vanished almost instantly from the ATC screens, implying a voilent and catastrophic event causing its massive disintegration.
There are no reports whatsoever at this stage of an emergency call or signal from the flight deck of the 777. The airliner was at approximately 35,000 feet at the moment of last report, which was the altitude it promptly reached after departing from KLIA.
It is important to keep an open mind at this early stage of the search and investigations. There is a high probability that the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will be retrieved and read upon their discovery. That should quickly determine if this is a criminal investigation, or a mechanical or systems failure.
The 777 has an outstandingly good safety record. The only previous fatal crash of any model of the 777 family occurred at San Francisco airport, when an Asiana Airlines flight crashed onto a runway after an unstable approach last July, causing two fatalities and leading to a third passenger being killed by a rescue vehicle after escaping from the burning jet.
Malaysia Airlines has in the past been the subject of a criminal event which destroyed a 737 in 1977, in which a hijacker killed at least one of the pilots and all 100 people on board died in the crash near Tanjung Kupang. In 1995 a bad weather landing attempt by a regional Fokker F50 in Sabah killed 34 of the 53 people on board.