Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Families right to keep asking questions after bungled investigation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:45am

Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, could not have been any blunter when he announced that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had gone down in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean and that none of the 239 people on board had survived. The conclusion was based on analysis of British satellite data and, as far as officials in charge of the investigation were concerned, was indisputable. No matter how unwelcome that may be for relatives of those missing, that is not an unreasonable assumption given that almost three weeks have passed since the plane disappeared. But the government's bungling of the crisis and the lack of wreckage make accepting such a claim difficult; not until hard evidence is provided will it be believed by the victims' families and many countries, including China.

There is good reason for doubt. From the outset, Malaysian officials have caused confusion and anger with conflicting statements and insufficient information. Its agencies and other governments have failed to co-ordinate and co-operate. No passenger plane before has disappeared in such mysterious circumstances, but that is no excuse for failing to follow accepted investigative procedures and practices. The protests of relatives for answers and Beijing's sending of an envoy to Kuala Lumpur seeking the satellite data is understandable.

More than 20 countries were quick to join the search but, not wanting to let other governments know about their capabilities, were slow to share radar and satellite information. Inmarsat, the private British satellite company whose data Najib based his announcement on, did not have such concerns. The data from "pings" from the plane to one of its satellites was handed to Malaysian officials four days after flight MH370 disappeared, leading to the search shifting from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. Its further ground-breaking analysis led to the conclusion that the jet had plunged into icy waters 2,400 kilometres southwest of Australia.

The lack of verified wreckage and no signals yet having been picked up from the plane's data recording black boxes are cause for families to continue to ask questions. Nations involved in the search have to redouble efforts through greater resources and better co-ordination. Until conclusive evidence is provided, there will be continued scepticism. Only when the plane is found can investigators begin to determine what could and could not have happened to flight MH370.