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Jan 7, 2017

Malaysia shows a sudden turn of speed in calling end to MH370 search

Is their something sinister or grubby going on in the haste with which the physical search for MH370 is being ended?

The south Indian Ocean, the keeper of inconvenient truths?
The south Indian Ocean, the keeper of inconvenient truths?

After dragging its heels over compensation to MH370 victims and the recovery and identification of passenger belongings the Malaysian Government is suddenly rushing to the finish line in the physical search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

It makes for grubby optics. Whether or not there is anything sinister behind Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai’s saying there are but two week’s to go in the southern Indian Ocean seafloor search is difficult to say.

Mr Liow has been at times quite erratic in his public pronouncements about MH370, even rushing to say soon after the flaperon recovery at La Réunion island in 2015 that suitcases and window frames were also being found.  Which proved totally untrue, although more recently some objects thought to be from passengers on MH370 have been found in various locations, and treated with disdain until recently by Kuala Lumpur authorities.

There is an obvious disconnection between the advice the MH370 search partners received in December for a final additional seafloor search, and the apparent but not necessarily real haste of Australia and Malaysia to abandon physical searching just when success beckons (or maybe ‘threatens’.) The Australian minister responsible for aviation, Darren Chester, was also very fast to head off any suggestion of a new search zone.

It is possible that Mr Liow is less skilled at media messaging than one might reasonably expect in senior cabinet ministers.

The very last thing that either government would be likely to wish to do is to create the impression that they are keen to call it a ‘wrap’ and quit the physical search before something potentially very inconvenient gets found, like the flight data recorder from the Boeing 777-200ER that had 239 people onboard when it disappeared as a transponder identified flight while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

This FDR should have registered data from dozens of flight critical functions on board MH370 for its entire seven hours 39 minutes in the air, and perhaps prior to that. Unlike the cockpit voice recorder, which if functioning on a continuous loop, would have overwritten the sounds heard on the flight deck immediately before, during and after whatever it was that diverted the jet, and made it go ‘dark’ to ATC controllers.

This second ‘black box’ the CVR should instead have picked up any sounds generated by the breakup of MH370 mid flight as it ran out of fuel and dived at high speed into the ocean. It should have recorded automated audible warnings from those final moments, and if indeed there was anyone alive in the cockpit, anything they said, or just the sound of their respiration.

But No. Let’s just slam the books shut now, before the risk of discovering something pertinent to the disaster. Time (in the minds of governments in Kuala Lumpur and Canberra) for everyone to sit up, shut up and move on!

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18 comments

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18 thoughts on “Malaysia shows a sudden turn of speed in calling end to MH370 search

  1. Tango

    While I have nothing good to say about Malaysia on the MH370 loss, at what point do you keep going?

    You search the next area and find nothing and then more analysis and its maybe this one?

    I believe Australia has gone unbelievably above and beyond in all this.

    One question: Can the FDR be turned off from the cockpit?

    1. discus

      There is no off switch . The C/B’s for both CVR and DFDR are in the E&E bay.
      One could speculate further and go into bus isolation , entering the E&E to pull breakers, disabling of other systems to stop recording but how far does one go? A determined, well prepared perpetrator can accomplish a lot of things not normally possible, but again, how much do we speculate?
      Under normal circumstances, a pilot can’t stop the DFDR, or, stop or erase a CVR in flight. This is not the case in every aircraft (ie B737 has breakers in the cockpit) but does apply to the 777 as far as I know.

      In reply to Ben’s post, I would suggest that there will be loud sighs of relief in parts of Malaysian officialdom when this search ends without a positive result.

      1. Tango

        Thank you, I thought I had memory of it being able to be shut off, makes sense with the 737 end as that is where it would have come form.

        Lets speculation and just curious on a perspective of what might or might not be logged.

        I believe the maintenance system logs as well but I don’t know what their storage time is.

  2. JW (aka James Wilson)

    Is the position expressed in Minister Liow’s comments any different to that announced in the tripartite agreement back in July 2016 and reiterated in every update since? That agreement held that “in the absence of credible new evidence leading to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, the search would not end, but be suspended upon completion of the 120,000 square kilometre search area”. What’s different this time?

    The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), from whence the Reuters ‘story’ originated, also reported the following, which seems to have escaped Reuters’ attention:

    “KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 (Bernama) – The tripartite meeting between Malaysia, Australia and China on the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be held before Jan 28, according to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai. He said the decision whether or not to continue or to temporarily suspend the search for the missing aircraft would be made at the meeting.”

    Liow is reported to have said “As for now, we will complete the search in the 120,000 sq km search area and when it is all done, we will wait for the report if there is any more credible clue to look for”, referring to a report to be published by the ATSB at the end of the current search. According to Liow, that report is expected in “another week or two”.

    So, it seems that another tripartite meeting will be held before the end of January, at which time a decision will be made on whether or not to continue the search. The Malaysian and Australian transport ministers have already said the recommendations of the ATSB’s First Principles Review do not amount to ‘credible new evidence’ about a ‘specific location’ of the aircraft. That does not bode well for a decision to continue the search, but let’s hope that another strong recommendation from the ATSB at the end of the current search will create sufficient political pressure to sway the decision.

    In another development, a recent tweet by Dr Richard Cole, who has been tracking the progress of the MH370 search operation, shows the Fugro Equator has sailed quickly over the last few days to a location on the edge of the new priority area identified in the ATSB’s ‘First Principles Review’. He commented that the ship is outside the area that was previously scanned by tow-fish and that the AUV is being used to expand (slightly) the total area searched with the side-scan sonar, instead of just filling in gaps. In another tweet he wondered if the 120,000 sq.km target has already been reached and if the ship is only conducting this additional activity to see out its contract. The next Operational Search Update from the ATSB might provide a clue (or not).

    1. Ben Sandilands

      JW,
      That’s a very interesting question. I am pretty certain I talk to the same people as the other few reporters following this story on a consistent basis, and the guidance without breaking the ground rules has been that a continued if less expansive search was likely to result from the review undertaken by the search partners.

      The official statements from Mr Liow and Mr Chester seem to come in over the top of that process, and so far, whether its silence is significant or not, we haven’t heard from China. It seems to me at least to boil down to what constitutes credible new leads. The Australian ministerial position is that the situation outlined recommending a new but more focused search by the ATSB made by the First Principles Review on December 20 has been rejected.
      You can find that post as to what the First Principles Review decided last year here:
      https://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2016/12/20/new-final-mh370-search-zone-defined-latest-atsb-study/
      Mr Chester was quick to reject that position, and if we resort to the strict meaning of words, the official position now is that there will be no resumption of a search without the certainty of a precise location, meaning it would not actually be a search at all, but given the meaning of previous communiques, a recovery operation at a now known location.
      All good Yes Minister stuff, and quite contrary to the spirit and intent of earlier statements by Mr Chester concerning the First Principles review.
      Naturally, this might give rise in the minds of those used to being misled by government statements in Australia and Malaysia that something else is going on. We are wickedly suspicious and tiresome people in the fourth estate, loath to accept words at face value from any political party, and as readers might be aware in relation to other stories of recent days, we tend to be right in terms of separating bullshit from reality. As former speaker Bronwyn Bishop was to discover, and another minister might be about to discover.
      Dr Cole’s sharp eye may be onto something. I don’t think the optics of ending the seafloor search short of the proposed new adjacent zone is politically astute. Yet it may in the larger scheme of Australia-Malaysia relations, be very astute.
      One thing I’d urge readers to keep in mind is that if the media is to continue to do its job, it will not lie back and cop official statements from any source as being the definitive and all encompassing truth. Particularly when something that was the subject of largely informal guidance suddenly jumps the rails.

      1. JW (aka James Wilson)

        I agree Ben, it all comes down to the governments’ joint view of what constitutes ‘credible new evidence’. I wonder if the official statement following July’s tripartite meeting, together with the more recent comments from Chester and Liow, are more about expectation management than anything else. In that sense, they have already softened the blow if they decide to suspend the search, perhaps making the political fallout easier to manage in some quarters. I tend to think they have a lot of ‘wiggle room’ to move either way, subject to any recommendations from the ATSB at the conclusion of the current search. The decision, whenever it comes, will be telling.

      2. comet

        We must only hope that Australia does not end the search purely to lubricate its relationship with Malaysia.

        From time to time the Australia-Malaysia relationship collapses anyway, like when former PM Paul Keating called Malaysian PM Mahathir a ‘recalcitrant’, but it always recovers, as Australia is the larger economy and it hurts Malaysia more.

  3. comet

    If any party wants more of the Indian Ocean searched, it would be easier to extend the current search, rather waiting until after the ships and employed people have packed up and gone home.

    1. Dan Dair

      Comet,
      Very true.
      And if they were to muck-about long enough, it’d be the back-end of autumn before they made any decision…..
      & there’s no point setting sail for the SIO just as winter is setting-in.?

      The Chinese ships have already gone home, haven’t they.?
      I suspect that the Chinese may decide to replenish & re-deploy their own search vessels to the new area, should the joint investigative team choose to pack it all up & just forget about it.?

      It’s the Australian territorial region but actually international waters as far as I’m aware, so if the Chinese want to go off & paddle their own canoe in that vicinity, there’s no legal barrier to them doing it.
      Indeed, they may decide to go-along with a JIT decision to suspend, just so they can be left alone to quietly & privately pursue their own search, without the world looking over their shoulders.?

      1. caf

        Territorial waters only extend 12 nautical miles out to sea, and the exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles. Neither gets anywhere near the search area, it is well and truly in international waters – Australia’s involvement is due to it being part of the area that we’ve agreed to take responsibility for maritime search-and-rescue in.

  4. Vector-1

    Is it really that sudden it? They have given sic months notice.
    The weekly ATSB updates since the tripartite meeting in July 2016 have repeated that the search will finish when the full 120,000km2 area has been searched. The total area scanned has been updated weekly.
    For several months they predicted this would be in January or February this year and latterly it has been clarified as finishing this month.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      You had to pay attention to the media conferences and additional interviews given by the ATSB to realise that the official statements were not the full story. I have explained that, indeed, recorded it, on a number of occasions, and in earlier responses in this discussion.
      As a matter of principle, and in relation to all government activities, relying on official statements written for ministers by bureaucrats and PR people will get you screwed, badly, or at least, significantly misled.

    2. Dan Dair

      Vector-1,
      I think you may have missed the point.

      It’s not about the end of the existing search. As you correctly identify, the investigation team have kept us fully informed about the existing search & when they expect it to be concluded.
      The issue is about what happens next.?

      Initially, the impression was that there would probably be a further search of the next best location.
      The independent group have collaborated with the official investigation team & it was assumed by all that the end of the initial search would not automatically be the end of the search process.

      The latest comments from those in control of the investigation, both in Malaysia & Australia, seem to be saying when this search is over, it’s all over.?

      1. Vector-1

        I appreciate that Dan. I have no problem with the rest of the article, only the use of the words sudden, grubby haste, suddenly, sinister, grubby optics, real haste etc which were used to give impression that the decision and the actual end of the seabed was unexpected or not publicly and widely announced months in advance.
        For the avoidance of doubt I believe the search should continue and support the views expressed in the article that that latest First Principle Review Report drift model does provide credible new evidence that has been used to identify a specific location which is the most likely location they quote as 35S on the 7th arc, which is 35.00S 92.424749E.
        I can not imigine we will ever get anything more specific than that.
        I am surprised there is not a more concentrated campaign to get the authorities stand by their undertaken to at least investigate this location. Clearly I am hoping it would result in at least an addidional one month sweep to search the area and preferably to fully search the new 25,000km2 area until winter.

  5. comet

    “We are wickedly suspicious and tiresome people in the fourth estate, loath to accept words at face value from any political party”

    The public has always ranked journalists and politicians at the bottom of the trustworthy scale, along with used car salesmen.

    The difference is that in the old days people were willing to pay to read a newspaper.

    I believe we’d know a lot less about MH370 if it wasn’t for the journalists working on it, including yourself, Ben.

    1. Tango

      Ben:
      Right or wrong Ben, that has my whole hearted endorsement. I am inclined to feather down the more sensationalist headline but above and beyond support the effort to keep sorting the BS from the reality. Far too much of the former and not enough or at times any of the latter.

      Commet: I do still have a daily news paper subscription and its read cover to cover (ignoring the pure nonsense) . Sadly they have also gone to beating a horse to death instead of good straight forward writing and they dilute the point.

      What also ticks me off is people saying the news is not worth reading.

      It is, you do need to be reasonably educated to sort out things, its impossible to do a lot of stories right (some really are a book) and they shorten it up to fit.

      But you can do so if you try. Far too many just want things handed to them. Any field has that same problem and issue and you learn it by working at it, not sitting and whining about it.

      Ben walks the walk. Far too many do not.

  6. malcolmdbmunro

    I am glad to see that MH370 is not going off your radar, Ben. We need at least one sane
    voice to maintain a call to not let the search go. I hate the idea of moving on. The bits of the plane have to be somewhere. There has always been the suspicion that Malaysia has something to hide with regard to MH370. Our friend Mr Liow may simply be a poor liar. To continue searching or not, why let Malaysia off the hook?
    What happened to the relatives of the flight who planned or began to search the beaches off the East Coast of Mainland Africa and adjacent islands?

  7. comet

    The Guardian has the scoop confirming the search has been suspended.

    You could argue that Australia should not have been searching. But after searching for two years, and with a lot of people calculating that the aircraft is likely to be just north of the current search are, it seems foolish to call the search off now.