With Day Three of the search for the Malaysia Airlines 777-200 that went missing early on Saturday morning now more than half over Malaysia’s civil aviation and search and rescue authorities say they don’t have even a single piece of evidence conclusively identifying the airliner or the crash site.
The authorities said Vietnamese reports of objects that variously looked like the tail of the jet or a door have not been confirmed, and that aerial sightings that were made yielded nothing when naval ships reached their last seen locations.
The airliner, operating flight MH370, took off with 239 people on board from, Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12.40 am local time Saturday.
At 1.22 local time, while crossing the Gulf of Thailand between the Malaysia Peninsula and the southern tip of Vietnam it disappeared from ATC radar. The jet was then contacted by radio by another airliner using the common emergency transmission frequency on behalf of Malaysian air traffic control but that communication was lost at 1.30 am, the last time the 777 was heard from.
That communication, which was of poor quality, apparently didn’t last long enough to establish the continued status of the flight, but Malaysia military sources have been quoted as saying there was radar evidence suggesting MH370 may have turned back toward Kuala Lumpur.
Note that while the airline and authorities have not disputed Malaysia media reports about the radio communication made after ATC lost the radar trace they have not addressed it either. This remains one of the unresolved puzzles, in that we have a good fix on the last identified radar trace, 1.22 am local, and an unchallenged account of a subsequent radio communication, and airline confirmation that it last heard of MH370 at 1.30 am. But it remains possible that there is a major error of timing or substance being made concerning the period between 1.22 am and 1.30 am, similar to Malaysia Airlines correcting the record as to when the aircraft was ‘lost’ from departure to 42-50 minutes after it took off.
There is nothing necessarily sinister in this. It may all be properly explained away, or it may remain central to the mystery.
According to this afternoon’s briefing, the longest yet given by the Malaysia authorities, they have not narrowed their search areas at all, and are looking at extending the current Gulf of Thailand search back toward the Straits of Malacca, indicating their concern that the flight might have come down closer to its point of departure than previously believed.
Reporters at the media briefing were told that the security arrangements at Kuala Lumpur’s major international airport met all the ICAO requirements, and that the luggage checked in by five passengers who did not board the flight by the assigned time had been unloaded .
Questions about continuing inquiries by the FBI as well as the Malaysia and other security organisations into the identity off two persons known to have joined the flight using stolen passports were not answered.
The Malaysia authorities did not answer questions as to whether or not they had checked all passenger passports boarding the flight against an Interpol data base tracking persons known or suspected of terrorist or criminal links or against the list of stolen passports.
The point was repeated a number of times that all lines of inquiry into possible causes for the disappearance of flight MH370 were being equally pursued, and that nothing had been ruled out when it came to criminal activity or mechanical failure.
The apparent disappearance of the 777 from ATC radar eight minutes before a radio link ended has not been explained as yet. There are many unresolved questions about this unprecedented loss of an airliner in controlled airspace, and one of the more obvious is whether or not there has been full disclosure of everything known to military or security agencies in the region, not only those of Malaysia.
The media briefing dismissed the veracity of door, tail or other component sightings yet did not rule out the possibility that real debris had been seen but then lost before ships or helicopters could reach those sightings.