There is a graphic (above) in yesterday’s chapter closing ATSB report on the Australian managed search that forms an X where data derived from a home flight simulator used by MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah intersects the satellite signal derived 7th arc of possible locations of the missing Boeing 777 when it generated its last information to an Inmarsat communications satellite.
Is this near the impact point where on March 8, 2014, the Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 people struck the south Indian Ocean, apparently at very high and destructive speed after running out of fuel?
The ATSB favours such a conclusion in its ‘chapter closing’ final report into the search it managed on behalf of Australia and its partners in trying to locate the sunk wreckage, Malaysia and China.
But have the Malaysian authorities been caught out covering up critical information about the unsolved disappearance of flight MH370, or did they repeatedly mishandle the information they variously gave or refused to give to the public and the next of kin of the dead after it vanished on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.
The reasons for yet again posing such a question are found in that just released Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) final report into the wide body airliner’s disappearance that night when it was over the Gulf of Thailand when it suddenly veered off course and ‘went dark’ to civil air traffic control systems.
The ATSB report was obviously not written to put the Malaysian search partners on the spot. It was given a mainly innocuous summary that the general media fell for, while the controversial disclosures are in the 440 page detailed document.
It’s this document that for the first time in three years and six months officially discusses data traces found on the home flight simulator computer of MH370’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, which shortly before the fateful night, inexplicably modeled the conduct of a 777 flight far into the southern Indian Ocean SW of Perth, and out of fuel, and at one stage, at only 4000 feet altitude. Why? MH370 observers, reporters, and aggrieved next of kin have besieged the Malaysian authorities about incomplete and often contradictory leaks about what was found on the flight sim, with no real answers. At last the ATSB has provided some concrete but perplexing evidence as to what was being explored by person or persons using the computer before MH370 turned into the greatest mystery in airline history.
It gets potentially worse for the Malaysian authorities when other ATSB insights in this ‘chapter closing’ report are considered. There is a technical discussion of those matters on a post by Dr Victor Iannello, one of the distinguished independent group of scientists who have been reviewing and analyzing the information disclosed about the loss of MH370 even since the authorities began being evasive as to what they did or didn’t know.
To recap without the technicalities, Malaysia clearly mislead the public and the next of kin as to what it knew about military radar observations of MH370 suddenly diverting westward across the Malaysia Peninsula immediately after its ATC identifying transponder went off line.
Crikey drew attention to serious issues with what Malaysia knew on the day the flight vanished, as distinct from what it then said it knew, and continued to say, more than three years ago in Plane Talking when Kuala Lumpur released an interim factual report into the disappearance.
Malaysia was continuing to encourage its then aerial and maritime search partners to look further into the South China Sea at a time when cabinet knew about the military radar traces putting the ‘dark’ jet westbound into the Straits of Malacca area.
As Dr Iannello notes in his review of the ‘final’ ATSB report “Malaysia chose to omit key pieces of evidence from the Factual Information (FI) released in March 2015 that are presented in the new ATSB report.
“These pieces of evidence include details about the radar data, information regarding the simulator data found on the captain’s home computer, and the data related to the registration of the first officer’s cell phone as the aircraft flew near Penang. Although these omissions have been discussed in detail on this blog, perhaps with the release of the ATSB report, more will question why Malaysia chose to not disclose, and even deny the existence of, important evidence.”
None of this proves a cover up, but much of it strongly suggests one.
It is also impossible to read even the anodyne ATSB summary of its chapter closing report without detecting a frustration with Canberra’s seeming haste in calling off the sea floor search in January despite the investigator and the CSIRO identifying a new 25,000 square kilometer zone which has the highest probability of containing heavy pieces of wreckage such as the main wheels, the engines, sections of the central wing, and the cockpit sound recorder and the flight data recorder.
If the technical issues are stripped away, the search for MH370 has been abandoned just when it had its greatest chance of success. On March 23, 2014, a French radar satellite imaged apparently man made objects floating in an area west of Perth that under fresh analysis published by the ATSB would have been able to drift there from the probable oceanic crash site modeled by the CSIRO.
But the then aerial search in 2014 was (with hindsight) seemingly hastily shifted around 1000 kms to the north east, and the possible sighting of floating debris from MH370 was never examined in what were at the time highly adverse sea and visibility conditions.
This leaves the MH370 mystery in a situation where there is a confident prediction as to where the heavy parts sank after an apparently high velocity impact. There have been delayed insights into a strange flight sim session involving south Indian Ocean data points in the home of the captain of the flight shortly before it took off late on the night of March 7, 2014.
The Malaysian authorities can be seen to be either incredibly clumsy at communicating with the media and next of kin, or purposefully evasive about what they knew about the captain’s activities on the flight sim, and the military radar traces, and a first officer’s cell phone handshake with a ground station, and other matters.
The Australian managed search has done it is job, right up to the verge of likely success. Malaysia continues to conduct the separate air crash investigation. And the questions, and the serious doubts, continue to pile up.