While the search for flight MH370 ended with the announcement Monday that the missing plane went down in the Indian Ocean, two more Malaysia Airlines planes ran into trouble and had to make emergency landings in Hong Kong and Nepal. The Hong Kong landing was prompted by the failure of an onboard electric generator, and the other flight heading for Kathmandu, Nepal, made a nasty landing after it struck a flock of birds that splattered the windshield. The two incidents have led to airline officials being grilled over safety checks on their planes and on MH370, in particular.
The latest satellite data from Britain confirmed that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is in the Indian Ocean, leaving no hope for survivors. The tragic update was first sent out through text messages by Malaysia Airlines to the families of those onboard and later announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The text message from Malaysia Airlines was also seen by the BBC, which reported that it said the airlines had to assume beyond “any reasonable doubt” that the missing plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. It also said that there were no survivors. The announcement from the prime minister occurred on the fifth day of an international search effort that was launched in the southern Indian Ocean.
The latest data analysis has been provided by the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch, in collaboration with Inmarsat, a UK company which furnished the satellite data. According to the analysis, the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was shown flying down the southern corridor. The flight was last seen traveling west of Perth, Australia, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Mr. Razak, who expressed deep sadness over the tragedy, said the last seen location of the flight was remote and far from any possible landing sites. The announcement dashed the hopes of the families of the 239 passengers onboard, plunging them into grief and sorrow. More than 150 passengers onboard were from China.
Mr. Razak’s statement arrived as a navy ship from Australia reported that it was close to discovering debris from the plane, following a climbing number of sightings of floating pieces believed to be part of the missing jetliner. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that three planes were on their way to the site, from where information on these sightings were coming in. Descriptions of the floating debris that came in Monday ranged from a gray or green circular object and a rectangular orange object.
When flight MH370 headed for Beijing disappeared without a trace within an hour of takeoff from Kuala Lumpur, all attention and search efforts were concentrated in areas north of the equator. There were no confirmed sightings of the missing plane and nobody had any clue as to what went wrong. When the searches yielded no tangible results, the focus shifted to the southern Indian Ocean, where the search area was progressively narrowed to a rough stretch of sea by new satellite data. This location was away from the designated flight path by thousands of miles.
Joining the search operations for the Malaysia Airlines plane was the the United States, which was sending in its highly sophisticated black box detector to the site in the Indian Ocean. In an email statement, Commander Chris Budde, who is an officer with the U.S. Seventh Fleet Operations, said the black box detector could begin responding as soon as the debris was found.
It is pertinent that the debris is found as soon as possible because the black box’s beacon has a limited battery life. The black box records the goings-on within a plane in flight such as cockpit voices and flight data. It is crucial that the black box from a plane crash site is found as soon as possible because its in-built locator beacons last only for 30 days.
Data obtained from partial military radar tracking has shown that flight MH370 turned west, flew once more over the Malay Peninsula, evidently under the control of a skilled pilot. It is the belief of some investigators that the Malaysia Airlines plane was in the clutches of a hijacking or sabotage, but technical problems have not yet been ruled out. The fact that two more Malaysia Airline planes were in trouble so soon after the missing flight incident is a case in point.
Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had sent out a warning about the Boeing 777 having a potential weak spot, which reportedly could lead to the aircraft losing its structural integrity. The airline was also instructed to watch out for corrosion beneath the fuselage skin, which could eventually compromise it, leading to rapid decompression as well as the aircraft breaking up. Officials from Malaysia Airlines have come under intense pressure to confirm whether safety checks were made on its 777 aircraft. They have insisted that safety checks had been carried out in compliance with Boeing guidelines.
The latest scare came a day after it was found that flight MH370 dropped from an altitude of 35,000 feet to 12,000 feet, which can be explained only as a reaction to an emergency such as rapid decompression, explosion or a fire. While investigators will want to know how long it took the flight to drop to such a low altitude, the drop does seem to explain why it could not be spotted on radar. An anonymous official said that because it flew at 12,000 feet in an air corridor with heavy traffic, it kept the missing plane out of the sight of other aircraft as well.
The ongoing search in the Indian Ocean for the plane’s debris has been joined by two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 planes, making it a total of 10 planes searching the sea. Search operations, however, may be threatened by tropical cyclone Gillian brewing in the northwest coast of Australia, which could create unfavorable weather for the search. The Malaysia Airlines plane that went down in the Indian Ocean with no survivors has been followed by two more emergency landings that have caused more trouble for Malaysia Airlines.
Opinion by Aruna Iyer