air crashes

Oct 4, 2017

Did Malaysia cover-up, or stuff-up, key MH370 pointers?

Does the X on this graphic mark the most likely resting place of MH370?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Does the X come close to where parts of MH370 lie on the Indian Ocean sea floor?

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.


Leave a comment

20 thoughts on “Did Malaysia cover-up, or stuff-up, key MH370 pointers?

  1. Rob M

    The behaviour of the Malaysian government in the early days of the investigation makes them seem very unreliable and casts a deep shadow of doubt over the validity of the radar tracking and the flight simulator data; both of which were items of evidence that they submitted as fact.

    It wouldn’t seem out of character for one or both of those to be complete fabrications.

  2. Creeper

    The Captain has strongly been ruled out countless times….he was a good pilot….he had a good record….he would never do anything to hurt anyone….

    So was the Las Vegas shooter.

    1. Dan Dair

      Personally, I don’t want it to be the pilot (either of them), but I would naturally accept that as a fact if there was any positive evidence which would support that status.?

      The problem I have has always been the lack of anything definitive, one way or another.

      The latest report only emphasises the holes in the current knowledge.?
      Additionally, the fact that the Malaysian & Chinese nations have the only serious ‘skin in this game’, yet neither of them seems in any way keen to actually get to real truth of this loss.?

  3. James Nixon

    The 12.8 million Australian tax-payers have spent $14.85 each conducting the MH370 search. Another $5.15 each will generate another $65.9M to search the 35S/7th arc — the latest “most probable” area. $20 a head. As for the Malaysians? Conspiracy or stuff-up? The delay in declaring a Distress Phase set the tone for this entire operation. Who really cares how it got there? We have the best chance of finding that DFDR now. For the ten millions (ATSB figure) who step into airliners every single day — we must find out. I’ll pay $40 if needed. James Nixon – Author

  4. jukebox

    If I had the choice between a $120m non-binding, time-wasting divisive opinion poll, and financing the ongoing search for the watery graves of 239 souls, I know what I think I’d rather see my tax dollars spent on…

  5. Jacob HSR

    Suppose the tapes are found on the sea floor, who will control or own the tapes?

    1. Dan Dair

      When the ‘black-boxes’ are eventually recovered, I’m reasonably sure that the protocol is that they should be returned intact & in as complete a state as they are found in, to the manufacturers, so that the data can be recovered & reassembled as best as is possible on the manufacturers original test & analysis equipment.?

      Whoever should actually recover the recorders,
      on current form it’s extremely unlikely to be the Malaysians, or anyone acting directly on their behalf;
      & since the wreckage is almost certainly ‘off the coast’ of Australia, as opposed to near any other nation or land mass,
      it seems reasonable to assume that the recorders should come to Australia first & then directly onto the manufacturers from there.?

      IMO there’s no obvious reason why Australia (should that actually be the place where the recorders first make landfall.?) would turn the ‘black-boxes’ over to Malaysia.?
      I would have thought that good sense would dictate that the recorders went directly for analysis without delay, but then Malaysia, as the lead investigative nation would be the country responsible for disseminating whatever information was revealed from the devices.?
      (presumably however, China, Australia & the USA would also be ‘copied-in’ to that information & would be in a position to correct or elaborate upon anything which the Malaysian authorities then revealed.?)

      1. JW (aka James Wilson)

        Given there’s an ongoing investigation, the recorders ‘belong’ to the Annex 13 investigating authority, in this case Malaysia. It would be Malaysia’s responsibility to arrange for the read-out of the recorders. If Malaysia’s investigating authority does not have that capability (it probably doesn’t), then the recorders would be sent to another State that does have the capability. In this case they would probably go to the ATSB in Australia, or the NTSB in the US.

        1. Dan Dair

          I entirely agree with what you’ve said about the normal protocols,
          but once the recorders have been in seawater (for example) for an extended period of time, it’s no-longer necessarily a straightforward data-recovery exercise.

          In this particular case, there is a very good chance that the integrity of the seals will have been compromised & that the recording ‘chips’, will need very careful drying, cleaning & preserving before any attempt can be made to recover & then read any data which remains.
          Additionally, if the data is compromised, the available information will need to be reconstructed into the best order possible.

          All of this work can only be done by a forensic laboratory which deals with electronics.
          The most appropriate of which would be the one at the original manufacturer of the recorders, which will have these facilities available, for exactly this kind of situation.!

          In order to prevent the recorders degrading still further once out of the seawater (or other contaminant), I believe it is usual for the devices to be shipped as expeditiously as possible, directly back to the manufacturers, by-passing the usual protocols where necessary.?

          1. JW (aka James Wilson)

            The major accident investigation agencies have their own in-house forensic laboratories that are used to analyse the recorders, even those that have been damaged or immersed in water for long periods. For example, if you read the French BEA’s final report of the AF447 investigation, you’ll find recorders were analysed at the BEA’s own laboratory, where the memory boards were removed, cleaned, dried and then analysed. The CVR memory board had to be repaired in the BEA laboratory before it was analysed. The US NTSB and UK AAIB would no doubt have the same capability. The ATSB here in Australia has its own recorder laboratories, but I don’t know if they have have the same capability to recover data from damaged memory boards. I guess there might be occasions when the investigating agency would need to call on outside specialists, but in most cases the recorder analysis is done in-house. If the investigating agency does not have the necessary facilities, it would send the recorders to the transport safety investigation agency of another country for analysis.
            There are very strict protocols in place that govern the handling of recorders after an accident and I very much doubt those rules would be by-passed. The recorders are always protected from damage during shipment and if they are recovered in water, they are immediately packed and shipped in water to prevent the memory boards drying out.

          2. Dan Dair

            I agree with almost everything you’ve said,
            I will add though, that it is extremely unlikely that Malaysia would have suitable equipment on hand to deal with such a set of circumstance
            & that transporting a found ‘black-box’ to a suitably-equipped centre for preservation & analysis via the lead-investigative country, when that country is not where the analysis-centre is located, would AFAIK, be contrary to the accepted practise of getting the recorders into preservation & conservation as quickly as is possible.?

          3. JW (aka James Wilson)

            As I said in my earlier comment:
            If Malaysia’s investigating authority does not have that capability (it probably doesn’t), then the recorders would be sent to another State that does have the capability. In this case they would probably go to the ATSB in Australia, or the NTSB in the US.
            Prior arrangements would be made for the recovered recorders to be collected and sent directly to the State where the analysis was to be conducted. The point I am trying to make is that the recorders are NOT normally sent to manufacturer, as you suggested in your earlier post. They are normally analysed in a government laboratory that specialises in data retrieval from aircraft recorders. That laboratory may or may not be located in the country that is responsible for the Annex 13 investigation.

          4. Dan Dair

            I fully accept what you’re saying about the most able AAI labs.

            I think we’ve essentially been arguing around the same point,
            which I believe was that in the event that 9M-MRO’s ‘black-boxes’ are ever found,
            with a little-bit more luck,
            we’ll avoid Malaysia ever getting their hands on them.?

          5. JW (aka James Wilson)

            Theoretically it doesn’t matter if Malaysia takes physical custody of the recorders or not. Malaysia is the Annex 13 investigating authority and any ‘official’ analysis conducted by another State would be done on Malaysia’s behalf. The resulting analysis would only be released to Malaysia for its investigation, unless it was unofficially leaked to another party.

          6. Dan Dair

            Dan Dair,
            I said originally;
            “(presumably however, China, Australia & the USA would also be ‘copied-in’ to that information & would be in a position to correct or elaborate upon anything which the Malaysian authorities then revealed.?)”
            I would have thought that aviation authorities in:
            China as the biggest ‘loss-of-life’ nation,
            Australia as a significant ‘partner’ in the investigation process &
            America as the country of manufacture of the aircraft, would all be given a full-report into the findings of the ‘black-box’ information.?

            You would know better than me whether there is any protocol which would actually prevent that from happening.?

          7. JW (aka James Wilson)

            Yes, States that are parties to the investigation have a right under Annex 13 to access all information pertinent to the investigation, including recorder read-outs. Those States include Australia, China, France, Indonesia, Singapore, UK & USA, in addition to Malaysia. However, Annex 13 specifically prohibits those States from releasing information without Malaysia’s permission:
            “5.26 Accredited representatives and their advisers:
            a) …
            b) shall not divulge information on the progress and the findings of the investigation without the express consent of the State conducting the investigation.”

          8. Dan Dair

            Which brings me back to another point I made earlier;
            The other nations “would be in a position to correct or elaborate upon anything which the Malaysian authorities then revealed.?”.

            Once the Malaysians had made public any aspect of the report, I would have thought it would become fair game for any of the other ‘party’ nations to comment upon the aspects revealed by the lead nation.?
            I would have also thought that should there be anything significant in the report which was concealed by the Malaysians, it would then become incumbent upon the other ‘party’ nations to ensure that such information formed part of the final or a further interim report.?

          9. JW (aka James Wilson)

            Annex 13 requires that Malaysia send a copy of the draft Final Report to the States previously mentioned, “inviting their significant and substantiated comments on the report”. The substance of those comments, if received within sixty days, must be included in the Final Report that is issued. There’d be a [email protected]#t storm if that didn’t happen.

          10. Dan Dair

            “The substance of those comments, if received within sixty days, must be included in the Final Report that is issued. There’d be a [email protected]#t storm if that didn’t happen”

            That is exactly what I was scrabbling around, trying to get at.!

            Thanks very much for clarifying the protocol by which it should happen………
            assuming of course, that the ‘black boxes’ are ever actually recovered.?

    2. Dan Dair

      Whilst on this same subject,
      It was one of Ben’s wise, early contentions that the smart-phones of the passengers may well have recorded video, audio or text, which might help the investigators reach a better-informed conclusion about what happened on board 9M-MRO on that day.?
      The memory chips on those phones would need to be treated with the same high-level of preservation, if anything useful is to be recovered from them.?

      Of course, the fact that phones are very small & as yet the main debris-field (should there even be one.?) has not yet been (& shows no signs of ever being) found, makes the likelihood of anyone stumbling-over a missing passengers phone most unlikely.!

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