Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

The missing aircraft, 9M-MRO, pictured in 2011
Incident summary
Date 8 March 2014
Summary Missing
Site Southern Indian Ocean (presumed)
Passengers 227
Crew 12
Aircraft type Boeing 777-200ER
Operator Malaysia Airlines
Registration 9M-MRO
Flight origin Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Destination Beijing Capital International Airport

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370[a]), also marketed as China Southern Airlines Flight 748 (CZ748) through acodeshare, was a scheduled international passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport (a distance of 4,399 kilometres (2,733 mi)). On 8 March 2014, the aircraft flying the route, a Boeing 777-200ER, went missing less than an hour after takeoff. Operated by Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the aircraft carried 12 crew members (all Malaysian nationals) and 227 passengers from 14 nations.

A joint search and rescue effort, later reported as the largest in history,[2] was initiated in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.[3][4] The search area was later extended to include the Strait of Malacca, Andaman Sea, and the Indian Ocean.[5][6][7] On 15 March, investigators believed that the aircraft had first headed west back across the Malay Peninsula, then continued on a northern or southern track for approximately seven hours.[8]

Two satellite images taken on 16 and 18 March showed potential aircraft debris in the southern Indian Ocean southwest of Western Australia,[9][10][11] prompting increased search activity in the area.[12][13] On 24 March, the Malaysian government confirmed analyses by the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Inmarsat concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the aircraft had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors.[14][15][16]

Since 22 March, there have been almost daily sightings of marine debris in the search area made by various countries' satellites.[9][10][11][17] However, none of the photographed objects have been positively confirmed as belonging to the missing aircraft.[18] Revised estimates of the flight's remaining fuel for its untracked route after losing radar contact, caused on 28 March a move of the search area to 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) north-east of the previous search area.[18]

On 29 March 2014, the Government of Malaysia and the AAIB stated that, in accordance with the protocols detailed inInternational Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13 concerning aircraft accident investigation, an international team will investigate the loss of the flight.[19][20]

Disappearance[edit]

The flight departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 8 March 2014 at 00:41 local time (16:41 UTC, 7 March) and was scheduled to land at Beijing Capital International Airport at 06:30 local time (22:30 UTC, 7 March). It climbed to its assigned cruise altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m) and was travelling at 471 knots (872 km/h; 542 mph) true airspeed[citation needed] when it ceased all communications and the transponder signal was lost. The aircraft's last known position on 8 March at 01:21 local time (17:21 UTC, 7 March) was 6°55′15″N 103°34′43″E, corresponding to the navigational waypoint IGARI in the Gulf of Thailand, at which the aircraft was due to alter its course slightly eastward.[21]Military tracking shows that the aircraft descended as low as 12,000 feet (3,700 m) after taking a sharp turn toward the Strait of Malacca. The sharp turn seemed to be intentional as normally it would have taken two minutes for the aircraft to make such a turn, and during that time there was no emergency call.[22]

The crew was expected to contact air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City as the aircraft passed into Vietnamese airspace just north of the point where contact was lost.[23][24] The captain of another aircraft attempted to reach the crew of Flight 370 "just after 1:30 a.m." to relay Vietnamese Air Traffic Control's request for the crew to contact it; the captain said he was able to establish contact, and just heard "mumbling" and static.[25]

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) issued a media statement at 07:24, one hour after the scheduled arrival of the flight at Beijing, stating that contact with the flight had been lost by Malaysian ATC at 02:40. MAS stated that the government had initiated search and rescue operations.[26] It later emerged that Subang Air Traffic Control had lost contact with the aircraft at 01:22 and notified Malaysia Airlines at 02:40. Neither the crew nor the aircraft's onboard communication systems relayed a distress signal, indications of bad weather, or technical problems before the aircraft vanished from radar screens.[27][28] The last words that Malaysian air traffic controllers heard were those of the co-pilot saying, "All right, good night."[29]

Timeline of disappearance[edit]

Route: Kuala Lumpur – Beijing. Inserted: initial search areas and known path near a navigational waypoint calledIgari, Vampi, and Igrex. Small red squares: radar contacts. Small circles: claimed spotting of debris.
Elapsed (HH:MM) Time Event
MYT UTC
00:00 8 March 7 March Take-off from KUL (Kuala Lumpur)
00:41 16:41
00:20 01:01 17:01 Crew confirms altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m)[30]
00:26 01:07 17:07 Last ACARS data transmission received;[31] crew confirms altitude of 35,000 feet, a second time[30]
00:38 01:19 17:19 Last Malaysian ATC voice contact[29]
00:40 01:21 17:21 Last secondary radar (transponder) contact at 6°55′15″N, 103°34′43″E
00:41 01:22 17:22 Transponder and ADS-B now off
00:49 01:30 17:30 Voice contact attempt by another aircraft, at request of Vietnam ATC; mumbling and radio static heard in reply[25]
00:56 01:37 17:37 Missed expected half-hourly ACARS data transmission[31]
01:30 02:11 18:11 First of seven automated hourly Classic Aero pings (handshakes) (since last ACARS transmission) via the Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite[32][33]
01:34 02:15 18:15 Last primary radar contact by Malaysian military, 200 miles (320 km) NW of Penang
05:49 06:30 22:30 Missed scheduled arrival at PEK (Beijing)
06:43 07:24 23:24 Malaysia Airlines pronounces flight missing in statement released to media[26]
07:30 08:11 8 March Last successful automated hourly handshake with Inmarsat-3 F1[32][34]
00:11
07:38 08:19 00:19 Unscheduled, unexplained partial handshake transmitted by aircraft[35][36]
07:49 08:30 00:30 Media reports on missing flight[37]
08:34 09:15 01:15 Scheduled hourly ping attempt by Inmarsat goes unanswered by aircraft[32]

Pings[edit]

New Scientist reported that, prior to the aircraft's disappearance, two Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) reports had been automatically issued to engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce's monitoring centre in the United Kingdom;[38] and The Wall Street Journal, citing sources in the US government, asserted that Rolls-Royce had received an aircraft health report every thirty minutes for five hours, implying that the aircraft had remained aloft for four hours after its transponder went offline.[39][40][41]

The following day, Hishamuddin Hussein, the acting Transport Minister of Malaysia, refuted the details of The Wall Street Journal report stating that the final engine transmission was received at 01:07 MYT, prior to the flight's disappearance from secondary radar.[41] The WSJ later amended its report and stated simply that the belief of continued flight was "based on analysis of signals sent by the Boeing 777's satellite-communication link... the link operated in a kind of standby mode and sought to establish contact with a satellite or satellites. These transmissions did not include data..."[42][43]

Inmarsat said that "routine, automated signals were registered" on its network,[44] and that analysis of "keep-alive message[s]" that continued to be sent after air traffic control first lost contact could help pinpoint the aircraft's location,[45] which led The Independent to comment on 14 March that the aircraft could not have met with a sudden catastrophic occurrence, or all signals would have stopped simultaneously.[21] After the attacks of 11 September 2001, in which three of the hijacked aircraft had their transponders switched off,[46] there was a call for automated transponders;[46] however, no changes were made as aviation experts opted for a flexible control, in case resetting was required due to malfunction or an electrical emergency.[46]

On 25 March, Hishamuddin revealed that Inmarsat had found evidence that the aircraft had attempted another handshake with the satellite that came at 00:19 UTC, eight minutes after the last hourly report. The "partial ping" initiated by the aircraft that was unscheduled and not the result of any human interaction with the aircraft, is not yet understood.[47][48]

Loss presumption[edit]

On 24 March, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said,

Using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort... Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.[49][b]

Just before Najib spoke at 10 pm Malaysia Standard Time, Malaysia Airlines announced that Flight 370 was assumed lost with no survivors. It notified most of the families in person or via telephone, and some received the following SMS:

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 suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.[52][53][54]

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng reacted sceptically to the conclusion by demanding "all the relevant information and evidence about the satellite data analysis", and said that the Malaysian government must "finish all the work including search and rescue."[36][55] The Daily Telegraph noted that Malaysian officials also appeared to shift some of the blame to the AAIB and Inmarsat by indicating these were the sole sources of information that led to the conclusion.[33] If the official assumption of no survivors holds, it would be the deadliest aviation incident in the Indian Ocean,[56] the deadliest in the history of Malaysian Airlines (surpassing the 1977 hijacking and crash of Malaysian Airline System Flight 653 that killed all 100 passengers and crew), and the deadliest involving a Boeing 777, surpassing Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

On 29 March 2014, the Government of Malaysia and the AAIB stated that, in accordance with the protocols detailed in International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13 concerning aircraft accident investigation, they will set up an International team to investigate the loss of the flight. The Government of Malaysia is also considering a proposal to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) and Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the incident.[19][20]

Search[edit]

Estimated route[edit]

Map of search. Search areas: 1) 8–20 March, 2) 20–27 March, 3) 28 March

On 11 March, it was reported that military radar indicated the aircraft had turned west and continued flying for 70 minutes before disappearing off the Malaysian radar near Pulau Perak,[57][58] and that it was tracked flying at a lower altitude across Malaysia to the Malacca Strait. This location was approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) from its last contact with civilian radar.[59] The next day, the Royal Malaysian Air Force chief distanced himself from the report saying it should not be misinterpreted.[60][61] According to the Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Transport, Pham Quy Tieu, "We informed Malaysia on the day we lost contact with the flight that we noticed the flight turned back west but Malaysia did not respond."[62]

US experts, assigned to assist with the investigation in a low-key manner consistent with conventions of responsibilities,[63] analysed the radar data and subsequently reported that the radar data did indeed indicate that the aircraft had headed west back across the Malay Peninsula, with Reuters and The New York Times saying that the route changes suggested that the aircraft remained under a trained pilot's control.[43][64][65] The New York Times also said the aircraft experienced significant changes in altitude.[64]

Although Bloomberg News said that analysis of the last satellite "ping" received suggested a last known location approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west of Perth, Western Australia,[66] the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on 15 March said that the last signal, received at 08:11 Malaysian time, might have originated from as far north as Kazakhstan.[67] Najib explained that the signals could not be more precisely located than to one of two possible loci: a northern locus stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern locus stretching fromIndonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.[68] Many of the countries on a possible northerly flight route – China, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and India – denied the aircraft could have entered their country's airspace, because military radar would have detected it.[69]

Although it was later confirmed that the last ACARS transmission showed nothing unusual and a normal routing all the way to Beijing,[70] The New York Times reported "senior American officials" saying on 17 March that the scheduled flight path was pre-programmed to unspecified western coordinates through the flight management system before the ACARS stopped functioning,[71] and a new waypoint "far off the path to Beijing" was added.[71] Such a reprogramming would have resulted in a banked turn at a comfortable angle of around 20 degrees that would not have caused undue concern for passengers. The sudden cessation of all on-board communication led to suppositions that the aircraft's disappearance may have been due to foul play.[71]

Locations[edit]

Thus far all search efforts generated multiple false leads. An admiral of the Vietnamese navy reported that radar contact with the aircraft was last made over the Gulf of Thailand.[27][72] Oil slicks detected off the coast of Vietnam on 8 and 9 March later tested negative for aviation fuel.[73][74] Alleged discovery of debris about 80 km (50 mi) south of Thổ Chu Island on 9 March was also found to be not from an aircraft.[75] Searches following a Chinese website's satellite images, taken on 9 March, showing three floating objects measuring up to 24 by 22 metres (79 ft × 72 ft) at 6.7°N 105.63°E also turned up blank;[76][77] Vietnamese officials said the area had been "searched thoroughly".[78][79]

The Royal Thai Navy shifted its focus in the search away from the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea at the request of its Malaysian counterpart, which was investigating the possibility that the aircraft had turned around and could have gone down in the Andaman Sea, near Thailand's border.[80] The chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, Rodzali Daud, claimed that military recordings of radar signals did not exclude the possibility of the aircraft turning back on its flight path.[81][82] The search radius was increased from the original 20 nautical miles (37 km; 23 mi) from its last known position,[83] south of Thổ Chu Island, to 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi), and the area being examined then extended to theStrait of Malacca along the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, with waters both to the east of Malaysia in the Gulf of Thailand, and in the Strait of Malacca along Malaysia's west coast, being searched.[4][84][85]

On 12 March, authorities also began to search the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Strait of Malacca, and the Malaysian government requested help from India to search in the area.[86] On 13 March, the White House Press Secretary said "an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean based on some new information"[39][87] and a senior official at The Pentagon told ABC News: "We have an indication the plane went down in the Indian Ocean."[88] On 17 March, Australia agreed to lead the search in the southern locus from Sumatra to the southern Indian Ocean.[89][90] The search would be coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), with an area of 600,000 km2(230,000 sq mi) between Australia and the Kerguelen Islands lying more than 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) from Perth to be searched by ships and aircraft of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.[91] This area, which Australian PM Tony Abbott described as "as close to nowhere as it's possible to be", is renowned for its strong winds, inhospitable climate, hostile seas, and deep ocean floors.[92]

On 20 March, the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, announced in parliament that two objects that might be related to the aircraft, one of them 24 m (79 ft) long, had been spotted by a satellite in the Indian Ocean on 16 March, 2,500 km (1,600 mi) south-west of Perth (coordinates 44°03′02″S 91°13′27″E), where the ocean depth could reach 5,000 metres (16,000 ft).[12][93][94][95] An Australian Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft arrived in the area at 02:50 UTC. The search effort increased over several days, with the Australian naval ship HMAS Success; a United States Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft; more Orions from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea; and aLockheed C-130 Hercules and two Chinese military Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft; also tasked to the area.[96][97][98][99][100] Civilian business jets and ships also assisted in the search.[96][101][102][103] A United States Navy TPL-25 towed pinger locator has been dispatched to the area where Flight 370 is believed to have come down to aid the search for the flight recorders once the debris field is located.[104]

Up to 27 March, there has been no live sightings; satellite images usually published with several days' delay. Still images from a Chinese satellite image, publisher on 22 March, showed large debris at a location about 120 km (75 mi) south west of the area shown in the earlier images;[9][10][11] these were located at 44°57′29″S 90°13′43″E. On 26 March, images from a French satellite indicated 122 floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean[17][105] On 27 March saw publication of Thai satellite images showing about 300 floating objects about 200 km (120 mi) from the French satellite's target area.[106]

On 28 March the search area was shifted 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) to the north east[107] to a 319,000-square-kilometre (123,000 sq mi) area 1,850 kilometres (1,150 mi) west ofPerth, based on further analysis of the flight's radar track before contact was lost and on revised speed and range estimates.[108][109] The new area is less likely to be affected by adverse weather conditions.[110] On 30 March four orange-coloured objects larger than 2 metres (6 ft 7 in), were spotted by a searching aircraft, but were not yet recovered and investigated by a ship.[111]

On the evening of 31 March a ship, with a towed pinger locator installed, headed out from Perth towards the search area, to search for the sonar signal transmitted by the aircraft'sULB. It was expected to reach the search area and begin its search on 3 April. The FDR and CVR have sufficient battery power to transmit somar pings for approximately 30 days after initiation. The searching ship has the capacity to search for 50 square miles (130 km2) per day, which means it would take 2460 days for it to sweep the entire search area. The mission is, therefore, for the searching ships to recover as much surface debris as possible, with the purpose of narrowing down the search area significantly based on the position of the debris.

Initial international participation[edit]

Chinese PLAAF Ilyushin Il-76 arriving in Australia on 21 March 2014 to assist in the search
Crews manning terminals on a search aircraft assigned to the disappearance

In response to the incident, the Malaysian government mobilised its civil aviation department, air force, navy, and Maritime Enforcement Agency; and requested international assistance under Five Power Defence Arrangements provisions and from neighbouring states. Various nations mounted a search and rescue mission in the region's waters.[112][113] Within two days, the countries had already dispatched more than 34 aircraft and 40 ships to the area.[4][5][85] The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission analysed information from its network of infrasound detection stations, but failed to find any sounds made by Flight 370.[114]

On 11 March Chinese authorities[115] activated the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, a 15 member organisation whose purpose is to "...provide a unified system of space data acquisition and delivery to those affected by natural or man-made disasters,"[116]the first time the charitable and humanitarian redeployment of the assorted corporate, national space agency, and international satellite assets under its aegis had been used to search for an airliner.[117]

Another 11 countries joined the search efforts by 17 March, after more assistance was requested by Malaysia, bringing the total to 26.[8]While not participating in the search itself, Sri Lanka gave permission for search aircraft to use its airspace.[118] Assets deployed by Malaysia included military fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.[119] and vessels from the navy and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.[119][120][121] A co-ordination centre at the National Disaster Control Centre (NDCC) in Pulau Meranti, Cyberjaya was established.[122] Other nations provided the following assets:

Information sharing[edit]

Although Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also the country's Defence Minister, denied the existence of problems between the participating countries, academics said that because of regional conflicts, there were genuine trust issues involved in co-operation and sharing intelligence, and that these were hampering the search.[172][173] International relations experts said entrenched rivalries over sovereignty, security, intelligence, and national interests made meaningful multilateral co-operation very difficult.[172][173] A Chinese academic made the observation that the parties were searching independently, thus it was not a multilateral search effort.[173]

Malaysia had initially declined to release raw data from its military radar, deeming the information "too sensitive", but later acceded.[172][173] Defence experts say that giving others access to radar information may be sensitive on a military level. As an example: "The rate at which they can take the picture can also reveal how good the radar system is."[172]One suggested that some countries may already have had radar data on the aircraft and were reluctant to share any information that could potentially reveal their defence capabilities and compromise their own security.[172] Similarly, submarines patrolling the South China Sea might have information in the event of a water impact, and sharing such information could reveal the subs' locations and listening capabilities. However, The Guardian noted the Vietnamese permission given for Chinese aircraft to overfly its airspace as a positive sign of co-operation.[173]

Satellite imagery is also being analysed by the public with the help of crowdsourcing site Tomnod.[174]

Analysis of satellite communication[edit]

The datalink for Malaysia Airline's avionics communications is supplied by SITA, which contracted with Inmarsat to provide a satellite communication link using Inmarsat's Classic Aero service.[33][175] The aircraft's satellite communication (SATCOM) system is used to transmit messages from the cockpit as well as automated messages from on-board systems using the ACARS communications protocol, but may also be used to transmit FANS & ATN messages and provide voice, fax and data links[176] using other protocols.[33][175][177] The SATCOM signals from the aircraft are picked up by Inmarsat's constellation of satellites and relayed to ground stations.[32] In the absence of a signal from a terminal, the ground station will transmit hourly 'log on/log off' messages – informally referred to as a 'ping' – to the terminal; an active terminal automatically responds. The entire process is referred to as a 'handshake'.[32][178] After ACARS equipment on the aircraft was disabled, the SATCOM transceiver aboard Flight 370 completed six handshakes; the final complete handshake occurring at 00:11 UTC on 8 March (8:11 MYT).[32][178]

Although the ACARS system on Flight 370 was disabled at 01:21 MYT (17:21 UTC, 7 March), the SATCOM terminal remained operable.[33] On 8 March, Inmarsat provided basic flight data relating to Flight 370 to SITA, who relayed information to Malaysia Airlines and investigators.[179] On 9–10 March, Inmarsat engineers noted that the ground station log recorded pings from the aircraft for several hours after contact was lost with air traffic control.[179] An analysis of the time difference between the transmission of the ping and the aircraft's response allowed Inmarsat to determine the aircraft's distance from the satellite, resulting in the plotting of two arcs—referred to as the 'Northern Corridor' and 'Southern Corridor' where the aircraft may have been located at the time of its last complete handshake at 00:11 UTC.

Inmarsat conducted further analysis on the signals received during the handshakes, focusing on the frequency shift of the signal emitted from the aircraft compared with the actual frequency received, known as the burst frequency offset,[32][178] using a baseline of earlier system data for the aircraft, satellite, and ground station.[178] The burst frequency offset, caused by the Doppler effect, varies based on the aircraft's speed and whether it is moving towards or away from the satellite. Using an "innovative technique"[178] that has "never before [been] used in an investigation of this sort",[180] the team determined they could also use the burst frequency offset to determine the aircraft's speed and position along the identified arcs. Inmarsat cross-checked their methodology to known flight data from six Boeing 777 aircraft flying in various directions on the same day, and found a good match.[32]Applying the technique to the handshake signals from Flight 370 gave results that correlated strongly with the expected and actual measurements of a southern trajectory over the Indian Ocean, but poorly with a northern trajectory.[32][178] Further revised calculations to account for movements of the satellite relative to the earth, allowed the northern corridor to be ruled out completely. This analysis was passed on to Malaysian authorities on 23 March.[33] At 10 p.m. local time the next day, Prime Minister Najib cited this development to conclude that "Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean."[33][181]

In addition to the six completed handshakes between Flight 370 and the ground station after ACARS stopped sending messages, there is "evidence of a partial handshake" at 00:19 UTC which was not immediately well understood and is subject to further investigation.[32][178] Since the aircraft did not respond to a ping at 01:15 UTC, it was concluded that at some point between 00:11 UTC and 01:15 UTC, the aircraft lost the ability to communicate with the ground station,[32][178][179] which Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation noted was "consistent with the maximum endurance of the aircraft".[178] Of note, the SATCOM terminal on an aircraft requires power from the aircraft to operate.[179]

Malaysian investigators have set up an international working group, consisting of various agencies with experience in aircraft performance and satellite communications, to further analyse the signals between Flight 370 and the ground station, especially the signal at 00:19 UTC.[178] These include representatives from UK's Inmarsat, AAIB and Rolls-Royce; China's Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) and Aircraft Accident Investigation Department (AAID); The US' NTSB and FAA, and Malaysian authorities.[182]

Aircraft[edit]

Flightdeck of 9M-MRO in 2004.

Flight 370 was operated with a Boeing 777-2H6ER,[c] serial number 28420, registration 9M-MRO. The 404th Boeing 777 produced,[184]it first flew on 14 May 2002, and was delivered new to Malaysia Airlines on 31 May 2002. The aircraft was powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines,[184] and configured to carry 282 passengers – 35 in business class and 247 in economy.[185] 9M-MRO had accumulated 53,460 hours and 7,525 cycles in service,[186] and had not previously been involved in any major incidents,[187] though a minor incident while taxiing at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in August 2012 resulted in a broken wingtip.[188][189] Its lastmaintenance 'A' check was carried out on 23 February 2014.[186]

The Boeing 777 is generally regarded by aviation experts as having an "almost flawless" safety record,[190] one of the best of any commercial aircraft.[191] Since its first commercial flight in June 1995, there have been only three other serious accidents involving hull-loss: British Airways Flight 38 in 2008; a cockpit fire in a parked Egyptair 777-200 at Cairo International Airport in 2011;[192][193] andAsiana Airlines Flight 214 in 2013, in which three people died.

Passengers and crew[edit]

People on board by nationality
Nationality No.
 Australia 6
 Canada 2
 China 152
 France 4
 Hong Kong[d] 1
 India 5
 Indonesia 7
 Iran[e] 2
 Malaysia[f] 50
 Netherlands 1
 New Zealand 2
 Russia 1
 Taiwan 1
 Ukraine 2
 United States 3
Total 239

Malaysia Airlines released the names and nationalities of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, based on the flight manifest, later modified to include two Iranian passengers traveling on stolen passports.[196]

Passengers[edit]

Two-thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese citizens, including a group of 19 artists with six family members and four staff returning from a calligraphy exhibition of their work in Kuala Lumpur; 38 passengers were Malaysian. The remaining passengers were from 13 different countries.[197] Of the total, 20 were employees of Freescale Semiconductor, a company based in Austin, Texas – 12 of whom were from Malaysia and 8 from China.[198][199]

Under a 2007 agreement with Malaysia Airlines, Tzu Chi – an international Buddhist organisation – immediately sent specially-trained teams to Beijing and Malaysia to give emotional support to passengers' families.[200][201] The airline also sent its own team of caregivers and volunteers[202]and agreed to bear the expenses of bringing family members of the passengers to Kuala Lumpur and providing them with accommodation, medical care, and counselling.[203] Altogether, 115 family members of the Chinese passengers flew to Kuala Lumpur.[204] Some other family members chose to remain in China, fearing they would feel too isolated in Malaysia.[205] The airline offered an ex gratia condolence payment of US$5,000 to the family of each passenger,[206] but relatives considered the conditions unacceptable and asked the airline to review them.[207] The amounts were handed out to relatives on 12 March; it was also reported that Malaysian relatives only received $2,000.[208]

Crew[edit]

All the crew members were Malaysian citizens. The flight's captain was 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah from Penang; he joined MAS in 1981 and had 18,365 hours of flying experience.[209] Zaharie was also an examiner qualified to conduct simulator tests for pilots.[210]

The first officer was 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, an employee of MAS since 2007, with 2,763 flying hours.[211][212] Fariq was transitioning to the Boeing 777-200 after having completed his simulator training.[212] He had previously flown the 777 as part of supervised training but this flight was his first as a full fledged 777 copilot. He bought himself a new Audi A4 to celebrate his new promotion.

Timeline of events[edit]

Date (UTC) Category Event
7 March Media Malaysia Airlines confirms it lost contact with Flight 370 at 18:40 UTC (02:40 MYT, 8 March), later corrected to 17:30 UTC (01:30 MYT)
8 March Search An international search and rescue mission mobilised focusing on South China Sea
9 March Search The search area expanded as the aircraft might have turned back west.
Investigation Two passengers are found to have been travelling on stolen passports.
10 March Search Ten Chinese satellites are now deployed in the search.
Search Oil slicks on the surface of the South China Sea tested negative for jet fuel
Media Malaysia Airlines announces it will give US$5,000 to the relatives of each passenger
11 March Investigation Interpol say that two false identities not linked to the disappearance
Media China activates the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters
12 March Search Chinese satellite images of possible debris from Flight 370 in the South China Sea at 6.7°N 105.63°E released, but surface search finds no wreckage[213]
Search Malaysian government receives Inmarsat info that Flight 370 pinged for hours after ACARS went off-line
Media Chinese government criticises Malaysia for inadequate answers regarding Flight 370
13 March Search US hints search should be expanded to the Indian Ocean
14 March Investigation Investigation concludes that Flight 370 was still under the control of somebody after it lost contact with ground control
Media MAS retires the MH370/MH371 flight number pair[214]
15 March Search Malaysia announces last satellite transmission from Flight 370 refocuses search along two loci – north and south. Thailand ends their fruitless search operation in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand.[215]
Investigation Malaysian police search the homes of both of the aircraft's pilots
16 March Search The number of countries involved in the search and rescue operation reaches 25. India ends their fruitless search operation in the Andaman Seaand Bay of Bengal.[215]
17 March Search Search area reported by Malaysian authorities to be 2,000,000 square miles (5,200,000 km2), as a belt beneath the last possible arc position stretching from Kazakhstan over Indonesia to the southern part of the Indian Ocean. Australia pledges to lead a search from Sumatra to the southern Indian Ocean.[215]
18 March Search China starts a search operation in its own territory. Australia still conduct an aerial search with one aircraft through waters West and North ofCocos Islands and Christmas Island (close to Indonesia), but also conduct their first aerial search of the southern Indian Ocean, with a single US P-8 Poseidon aircraft searching the waters West and Southwest of Perth.
19 March Investigation FBI works to restore logfiles deleted from the flight simulator in the captain's home.
20 March Search Aircraft and ships dispatched to locate two objects seen by an Australian satellite on 16 March, in the southern Indian Ocean at 44°03′02″S91°13′27″E; twenty-six nations are involved in search
21 March Search Search focuses on an area 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) southwest of Perth, Western Australia
22 March Search A Chinese satellite image taken on 18 March shows a possible object measuring 22.5 by 13 metres (74 by 43 ft) at 44°57′30″S 90°13′40″E, approximately 3,170 kilometres (1,970 mi) west of Perth and 120 kilometres (75 mi) from the earlier sighting, but did not confirm the object's nature.
24 March Search An Australian search aircraft spots two objects at sea, 1,550 miles (2,490 km) southwest of Perth.[216]
Media The Prime Minister of Malaysia announces that Flight 370 is assumed to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, and Malaysia Airlines states to families that it assumes "beyond reasonable doubt" there are no survivors.[217]
25 March Search The search area is narrowed to the southern tip of the southern search corridor; the northern search corridor and the northern half of the southern search area are definitively ruled out.
26 March Search French satellite images, captured on 23 March by Airbus Defence and Space, show 122 possible pieces of debris, between 1 and 23 meters long, within a 76-by-78-kilometre (47 by 48 mi) area of the southern Indian Ocean[17] at 44°41′24″S 90°25′19.20″E, 44°41′38.45″S90°29′31.20″E and 44°40′10.20″S 90°36′25.20″E.[218]
27 March Search The search area narrows to roughly 76,000 square kilometres (29,000 sq mi). Thai satellite images, captured on 24 March by Thaichote, show 300 floating objects ranging between 2 m and 15 m, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of the previous French images.[219] Japanese satellite images, captured on 26 March, show 10 squared floating objects, also about 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of the previous French images. Five ships from Australia and China are actively engaged.
28 March Search Search shifts to a new 319,000-square-kilometre (123,000 sq mi) area 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) northeast of the previous search area.[108][109]

Investigation[edit]

International participation[edit]

On 8 March, Boeing announced that it was assembling a team of experts to provide technical assistance to investigators,[220] in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) protocols. In addition, the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced in a press release on the same day that a team of investigators had been sent along with technical advisers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to offer assistance in the investigation.[170] Because a formal (ICAO-sanctioned) investigation had not yet started, co-operation and co-ordination between involved parties could suffer, there being "a risk that crucial early detective work could be hampered, and potential clues and records lost", according to experts.[221]

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had already deployed technical experts and agents to investigate the disappearance.[222] A senior US law enforcement official clarified that FBI agents had not been sent to Malaysia.[223] By 17 March the investigation was also being assisted by Interpol and other relevant international law enforcement authorities according to the Malaysian government.[224][225] United States and Malaysian officials were reviewing every passenger named on the manifest in addition to the two passengers who were confirmed as possessing stolen passports.[226] On 18 March the Chinese government announced that it had checked all of the Chinese citizens on the aircraft and ruled out the possibility that any were potential hijackers.[227]

Possible passenger involvement[edit]

Two men identified on the manifest, an Austrian and an Italian, had reported their passports stolen in 2012 and 2013, respectively.[27][228] Interpol stated that both passports were listed on its database of lost and stolen passports, and that no check had been made against its database.[229][230] Malaysia's Home Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, criticised his country's immigration officials for failing to stop the passengers travelling on the stolen European passports.[230] The two one-way tickets purchased for the holders of the stolen passports were booked through China Southern Airlines.[231] It was reported that an Iranian had ordered the cheapest tickets to Europe via telephone in Bangkok, Thailand. The tickets were paid for in cash.[232][233] The two passengers were later identified as Iranian men, one aged 19 and the other 29, who had entered Malaysia on 28 February using valid Iranian passports. The head of Interpol said the organisation was "inclined to conclude that it was not a terrorist incident".[195] The two men were believed to be asylum seekers.[234][235]

Upon the realisation that the aircraft may have been hijacked by a skilled individual, suspicion also fell briefly on a passenger who worked as a flight engineer for a Swiss jet charter company.[236]

Possible pilot involvement[edit]

Police searched the homes of the pilot and co-pilot,[237] on suspicion that those in the cockpit had been responsible for the aircraft's disappearance.[238] However, no evidence had emerged to support this theory. After the FBI reconstructed the deleted data from the pilot's home computer, the Malaysian government spokesman indicated that "nothing sinister" had been found on it.[239]

Cargo[edit]

On 17 March, Malaysia Airlines chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, indicated only that the aircraft was carrying 3 to 4 tonnes/tons of mangosteens and, while not disclosing the full flight manifest, said that nothing it transported was dangerous.[240][241][242] Three days later, he also confirmed that potentially flammable batteries, identified as lithium-ion,[243]were on board, adding that all cargo was "packed as recommended by the ICAO", checked several times, and deemed to meet regulations.[244][245][246]

Criticism and response[edit]

Public communication from Malaysian officials regarding the loss of the flight was initially beset with confusion.[g] The New York Times noted that the Malaysian government and the airline released imprecise, incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate information, with civilian officials sometimes contradicting military leaders.[253] Malaysian officials were also criticised after the persistent release of contradictory information, most notably regarding the last point and time of contact with the aircraft.[254]

Vietnam temporarily scaled back its search operations after the country's Deputy Transport Minister cited a lack of communication from Malaysian officials despite requests for more information.[255] China, through the official Xinhua News Agency, said that the Malaysian government ought to take charge and conduct the operation with greater transparency, echoed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry days later.[172][256] Questions and criticisms were raised by air force experts and the Malaysian opposition about the current state of Malaysia's air force and radar capabilities.[257][258][259] The Washington Post said that had MAS installed a system upgrade called Swift that had helped locate Air France 447, investigators would have had critical information about the aircraft even after the ACARS system and the transponder had stopped.[260] MAS' chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya has denied this, saying that Swift is merely a bandwidth upgrade and would not have helped with the search.[261]

Criticism was also levelled at the delay of the search efforts. British satellite company Inmarsat had provided officials (or its partner, SITA) with data on 11 March, three days after the aircraft disappeared, suggesting the aircraft was nowhere near the areas in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea being searched at that time; and may have diverted its course through a southern or northern corridor, information only publicly acknowledged and released by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on 15 March in a press conference.[33][262] Responding to criticisms that information about satellite signals had not been made available earlier, Malaysia Airlines said that it was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analysed "so that their significance could be properly understood". While this was being done, the airline was unable to publicly confirm their existence.[263] Acting Transport Minister of Malaysia Hishammuddin Hussein responded as well by disclosing the timeline of the handling of the satellite data. He said Malaysian and US investigators had immediately discussed the Inmarsat data upon receiving it on 12 March, and on two occasions, both groups agreed that it needed further processing and sent the data to the US twice for this purpose. The analysis was only ready on 14 March, where the AAIB also independently arrived to the same conclusion.[264]

MAS was criticised for not disclosing its cargo manifest, as its contents could be of use in the recovery process.[240][265]

Although relatives claim to have heard ringing tones when calling to the passengers' cell phones, Malaysian authorities said there was no evidence of anyone on board attempting to make a cellphone call.[266] Flight 370 was not equipped with a base station for in-flight cellphone contact;[266] the distance from a transmission tower, flight altitude, and shieldingby the aircraft body would make transmissions unlikely. The absence of cell towers over oceans means no transmissions are possible.[266]

On 14 March, Malaysia Airlines retired the MH370/MH371 flight number pair for the Kuala Lumpur–Beijing–Kuala Lumpur route, replacing them with MH318 and MH319 respectively.[214]

On 25 March, Chinese president Xi Jinping said he was sending a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur to consult with the Malaysian government over the missing aircraft.[267] The same day, around two hundred family members of the Chinese passengers protested outside the Malaysian embassy.[268]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Jump up^ MH is the IATA designator and MAS is the ICAO designator[1]
  2. Jump up^ Inmarsat stated that its conclusion had been based on a further analysis of the measurements of the Doppler shift of the "ping" transmissions.[50] Although the company did not elaborate, notably, the Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite's orbit is inclined by 1.67 degrees, causing it to cross the equator twice a day.[51] This motion could cause a difference between the Doppler shifts of northbound and southbound transmitters.
  3. Jump up^ The aircraft is a Boeing 777-200ER (for Extended Range) model; Boeing assigns a unique customer code for each company that buys one of its aircraft, which is applied as an infix in the model number at the time the aircraft is built. The code for Malaysia Airlines is "H6", hence "777-2H6ER".[183]
  4. Jump up^ One passenger boarded with a Hong Kong passport.[194]
  5. Jump up^ The manifest released by Malaysia Airlines listed an Austrian and an Italian. These were subsequently identified as two Iranian nationals who boarded Flight 370 using stolen passports.[195]
  6. Jump up^ 38 passengers and 12 crew.
  7. Jump up^ Examples: 1) Malaysia Airlines' chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, initially said air traffic control was in contact with the aircraft two hours into the flight when in fact the last contact with air traffic control was less than an hour after takeoff.[247] 2) Malaysian authorities initially reported that four passengers used stolen passports to board the aircraft before settling on two: one Italian and one Austrian.[248] 3) Malaysia abruptly widened the search area to the west on 9 March, and only later explained that military radar had detected the aircraft turning back.[248] This was later formally denied by Rodzali Daud.[61] 4) Malaysian authorities visited the homes of pilot Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq on 15 March, during which they took away a flight simulator belonging to Zaharie. Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said this was the first police visit to those homes. On 17 March, the government contradicted this by saying police first visited the pilots' homes on the day following the flight's disappearance,[249] although this had been previously denied.[250] 5) On 16 March, Malaysia's acting transport minister contradicted the prime minister's account on the timing of the final data and communications received. Najib Razak had said that the ACARS system was switched off at 01:07. On 17 March, Malaysian officials said that the system was switched off sometime between 01:07, time of the last ACARS transmission, and 01:37, time of the next expected transmission.[251][252] 6) Three days after saying that the aircraft was not transporting anything hazardous, Malaysia Airlines' chief executive Ahmad said that potentially dangerous lithium batteries were on board.[241][243]

References[edit]

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