The most salient information in Australia’s final report into its search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was its finding, with a “high degree of certitude” that the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was not in the searched area. The report also details how the US$154 million bill for the search was split between Malaysia (58 per cent), Australia (32 per cent) and China. That China contributed just 10 per cent, even though two thirds of the passengers were Chinese, suggests Beijing had little faith in the search. Even so, the search wasn’t entirely wasted – the mapping of 700,000 sq km of unexplored seabed will be useful to the oil and gas and fishing industries.
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The report contains several oddities and red herrings. It refers to a last point of contact north of Sumatra, but this “contact” was only ever “confirmed” by one blurry slide, shown to some of the families in Beijing on March 21, 2014. The report mentions that six weeks before the flight, the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had flown a route on his home flight simulator “initially similar” to the one supposedly taken by MH370. The document the report bases this on has been dismissed as a clumsy fabrication based on several simulator routes flown by Shah, not one.
The report’s handling of debris is also troubling. It publishes a drawing provided by Malaysia that shows about 20 pieces of debris found in the western Indian Ocean even though most of these pieces have not been confirmed as belonging to MH370 and several were found in questionable circumstances. Particularly strange is that the “ATSB determined no analysis by Boeing was necessary”. Another oddity is the inclusion of French satellite images from March 24, 2014. If these held any clues, three and a half years is a long time to notice them.
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The report suggests better methods of satellite tracking but most pilots say long-haul planes are already triple covered. In fact, if just one of the recommendations from the report into the crash of Air France flight 447 in June 2009 had been taken up – that black boxes should detach on contact with water and float – MH370’s location might now be known.
The report also peddles a new myth when it says “the reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found”. Even if the hull and both black boxes were found, the main information gained would be the route taken by the plane and whatever (if anything) was said in the cockpit during the last two hours of the flight. These clues are unlikely to provide a reason for the crash.
In a sense, the report echoes the comments of Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, CEO of Malaysia Airlines, in March 2014: “We do not know how, we do not know why this tragedy took place.” After three years of searching, we still have no idea how, no idea why. ■