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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mystery of missing jet: From chaos to confusion

Investigations into the disappearance of MH370 has created confusion, more unanswered questions and dissatisfied relatives.
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najib mh370From chaos to confusion – that is how the Malaysian government has steered investigations into a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.
Nineteen days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished into thin air leaving the Malaysian government and authorities grappling with shock over its disappearance, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on March 24 delivered the dreaded news – the plane was lost at sea.
This was revealed even before any debris related to flight MH370 was retrieved. But Najib decided to go with the new satellite data analysis from Inmarsat and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) that concluded MH370 ended up in the southern Indian Ocean.
So Najib decided to announce to the world that the passenger jet with 239 people on board had “ended in the Southern Indian Ocean”.
The Inmarsat analysis considers the velocity of the aircraft relative to the satellite.
What is baffling however is that while Najib thinks he has brought ‘closure’ for relatives and friends of those on board MH370, he somehow remains uncertain – this going by his stand to have tangible proof that the plane did indeed crash into the Indian Ocean.
To the premier, the country will not go into mourning until wreckage of the ill-fated plane is found. But then why are states like Johor, Perak and Pahang already mourning, their flags flown at half-mast?
Even Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the face behind the press briefings held by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) governnment, was just as convinced with Inmarsat findings.
Hishammuddin said the analysis was convincing enough for AAIB to brief the Prime Minister that MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.
Armed with that information, Najib made the announcement, citing the fresh satellite tracking data and said the information was being shared “out of a commitment to openness and respect for the families, two principles which have guided this investigation”.
But why the rush to declare that MH370 met its end in the depths of the Indian Ocean when no debris has yet been found?
If telling the truth “out of a commitment to openness and respect for families” was Najib’s concern, why then is he waiting for any semblance of wreckage before the nation decides to mourn the loss of MH370 crew and passengers?
Najib’s ‘rushed’ press conference
Why not mourn now when Najib is confident of the analysis by Inmarsat and AAIB? Waiting for the MH370 wreckage to be found means the premier is giving everyone, be it the rakyat, relatives, next-of-kin or friends of those on board the troubled MH370 fodder for more questions.
The Malaysian authorities have repeatedly received flak for being secretive and giving contradictory information since the plane vanished from air traffic control radar screens on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
If respect for the families was a concern of the Malaysian government, decency would have dictated the manner the heart breaking news was relayed to them.
It was claimed by some relatives that MAS sent them the message through mobile text.
The following day MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya however clarified that text messages were used to inform families and relatives because the airline wanted them to know of the situation before the rest of the world.
The text message sent by MAS to family members read: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.
“As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence that suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”
Ahmad Jauhari did not want to speculate on what happened to the plane and denied allegations that family members of passengers from China were isolated from the outside world.
While MAS claim that the Chinese and English text messages were sent as an “additional” mean of contact after family members in Beijing had been contacted by telephone or in person, an image of the text message published by the American and Australian media show a very poor translation of the English version into Chinese.
A note at the bottom of the Chinese version stated it was a computer-generated translation.
Two thirds of the MH370 passengers were Chinese citizens.
Why did MAS resort to text messaging the anguished families when the gravity of the situation would demand that the news be conveyed in person, keeping in mind the language barrier?
BN and MAS ‘insensitive’
In Malaysia, families told reporters they were informed to watch the ‘live’ telecast of Najib’s announcement, which was in English.
A mother of one of the Malaysian passengers was forced to contact a reporter to ask about Najib’s announcement as she did not understand English.
Why did MAS allow the families to experience such inconveniences, leaving them to deal not only with the agony of losing loved ones but also the frustration of not knowing what was happening due to language barriers?
It was this anger and dissatisfaction that prompted angry relatives of the Chinese passengers aboard flight MH370 to protest in front of the Malaysian embassy in Beijing demanding for answers about the fate of the missing plane and those on board.
Around 200 family members, some in tears, linked arms and shouted slogans including “The Malaysian government are murderers” and “We want our relatives back”.
The move to protest outside the embassy took place hours after relatives reacted with grief and anguish to Malaysia’s confirmation, late the previous night, of their worst fears about the flight.
China has demanded that Kuala Lumpur hand over the British satellite data leading it to conclude that the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight crashed into the sea and that none of the 239 people aboard survived.
The 19-day ordeal arising from the missing Boeing 777 jetliner revealed just how much Malaysia has been struggling to ‘stay in control’. Then came the ‘rushed’ press conference by Najib.
And there were no apologies made to the Chinese. Why the indifference when China had no qualms apologising for the two wrong satellite images, why does Malaysia refuse to show the same humility?
Chris Mclaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat put it succinctly: “I think they (Malaysia) have struggled with an awful lot of information and an awful lot of challenges. They don’t have the powerful navy and airforce that China has. They don’t have the power of processing that America has. It is struggling with something so complex.
“I think they have made an honest attempt to try to run a very complex investigation, but I think people will draw their own conclusions,” he told Xinhua.
Malaysians and people the world over are already doing so.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

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