Considering all the things that Malaysia officials have said on the record in the first 30 days of the search for missing flight MH370 the interim report released late tonight is shockingly deficient in detail.
It doesn’t, for example, cast any light on the altitude changes that occurred after the flight suddenly turned away from its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early on the morning of 8 March while over the Gulf of Thailand.
Yet at the then regular KL briefings after the embarrassing spectacle of Malaysia officials denying they knew anything about a turnback, and then confirming one a day later, it was revealed that the last military radar trace of the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was at precisely 29,500 feet off shore from Phuket, compared to being at 35,000 feet when its transponder went off line rendering it invisible to the secondary radar systems used by air traffic control systems.
This interim report can only fuel the anger in China at the chaotic, inconsistent and evasive conduct of the Malaysia authorities in relation to telling the truth about MH370 in the 30 day period in which it had to file a report into its disappearance with ICAO, which it apparently did, but refused to make public until last night KL time.
(Tonight’s five page document plus maps and other appendices was actually described earlier in the day as ‘similar to’ the ICAO report.)
This may be a sorry first for Malaysia in the matter of meeting international air accident reporting obligations. It has issuing a preliminary air accident report that contains less by way of narrative than the statements that its officials have made in public, as if the aviation safety community and the relatives of those on board can be fobbed off with less by way of an official report than what they have seen on television news casts and in newspapers doing no more than directly quoting them.
This is the interim report’s reference to the main time line of the early stages of flight MH370 and the early going off line of its ACARS reporting system.
This is followed by this remarkably undetailed reference to the the primary military radar defence traces of MH370 not returning to KL but crossing the Malaysia Peninsula and then as recounted in the early media briefings being seen to have flown NW to a position off shore from Phuket.
This is a critical part of the ACARS data. It may have left the search effort without a precise impact point, but it did leave it with precise evidence that the jet flew for seven hours 38 minutes before crashing into the ocean, exact location unknown and now the subject of the Australia led sea floor search.
Immediately after tonight’s interim report was published this statement was linked to a tweet from acting transport minister and defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
As stated previously, Malaysian military radar did track an aircraft making a turn-back, in a westerly direction, across peninsular Malaysia on the morning of 8 March. The aircraft was categorised as friendly by the radar operator and therefore no further action was taken at the time.
The radar data was reviewed in a playback at approximately 08:30 on 8 March. This information was sent to the Air Force operations room at approximately 09:00. Following further discussion up the chain of command, the military informed the Acting Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein at approximately 10:30 of the possible turn-back of the aircraft. The Minister then informed the Prime Minister, who immediately ordered that search and rescue operations be initiated in the Straits of Malacca, along with the South China Sea operations which started earlier in the day.
This is completely inconsistent with the official information given to the media on days two and three of the disappearance of MH370, yet it makes the point that the Malaysian authorities knew they had seen what could have been a turn back on the morning of the second day, and well before the official narrative had Malaysia asking NTSB representatives to look at the data for advice as to whether the traces merited closer examination.
This credibility gap between the early media conferences and the confirmation of knowledge of the likely turn back very early in the disappearance goes to the criticism that Malaysia wasted valuable time and resources early in the MH370 search by spreading the resources of other nations into the South China Sea.
If the primary radar returns picked up by Malaysia’s defence radar knew that MH370 was at 29,500 feet off Phuket why can’t this interim report say how high the 777 was between there and the point of its ‘intentional diversion’ to quote from ministerial guidance at media conferences?
What is the point of keeping this information the stuff of potentially inaccurate leaks, which currently cover the extremes of an excursion to 45,000 feet (a very risky and tricky thing to do) or hugging the landscape of the peninsula to evade detection?
If the Malaysia authorities really have the sensibilities of the relatives of the 239 people on board at heart why wouldn’t they would clear up this matter once and for all?
The interim report comes with the most detailed maps yet released on the estimated range of flight paths depending on speed and other factors and final impact zones that would have ended the lives of those on MH370 some seven hours 38 minutes after lift off, if they had not perished earlier.
This is the general overview.
And this is a close up (below) of the three estimated impact zones all of which will be searched by heavy duty sonar mapping devices in the course of the extended sea floor search, up until the wreckage and flight data recorders of MH370 are located.
May this come sooner rather than later.
This post has been live blogged off the telecast of the media conference in Kuala Lumpur and from documents linked to a tweet by acting transport minister and defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein.