Tuesday 17 January 2017

MH370: There Must be a What Happens Next Until it is Found

The joint communiqué issued today by the JACC brings the current search of 120,000 square kilometers of the southern Indian Ocean for the seabed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to an end and the suspension of the nearly three-year search operation. The aircraft with 239 people on board went missing on the morning of March 8th, 2014. The now infamous phrase, “in the absence of credible new evidence leading to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft” was again used in today’s communiqué and has become something of a chant by government officials when asked by the media—what happens next? It was first used in a previous JACC communiqué in July 2016 following a tripartite meeting of senior ministers from Australia, Malaysia and the People's Republic of China in Putrajaya, Malaysia, which discussed what arrangements should be made in the event the wreckage of the missing aircraft was not located.

Today, I guess we finally got our answer to that—nothing. There are no arrangements, actually: barring—of course—someone or something turning up on the doorstep of the JACC that miraculously cracks the bureaucratic and carefully crafted conundrum ministers from three nations have set search teams and aircraft investigators.

Go find credible new evidence that provides an X marks the spot on the map. But there’s just one little rule: you’re not allowed search for that credible new evidence because we’ve suspended searching. What’s more, the recent debris found since we first uttered this carefully crafted conundrum last July, and the latest drift analysis based on it, doesn’t count any more as new and credible. Ha, gotcha!

Just a couple of weeks ago, speaking to the media, and following the release of the First Principles Review report, Malaysian Minister of Transport, Dato' Sri Liow Tiong Lai, was quick to remind all those gathered that the search for the wreckage of flight MH370 cannot “just rely on assumptions”. And, yet, excluding Inmarsat and military radar data that has never been fully disclosed to the public in its rawest form, the ATSB’s favored EOF (End-of-Flight) scenario is based on considerable assumptions—that the flight flew south at a constant speed, heading and altitude, was likely on autopilot and without manual input from the cockpit, and entered a spiral dive somewhere off the 7th arc following fuel exhaustion. Some 120,000 square kilometers and nearly three years later, and a second mooted 25,000 square kilometer area of “high probability” north east of the original search zone; this favored EOF scenario is looking increasingly like a perilous house of cards

Government ministers, and in particular those in Australia and Malaysia, have held steadfast to the “credible new evidence” mantra and rebuffed any suggestions that the conclusions of the First Principles Review report warrant the confidence and finance needed to push on with a new search. Estimated somewhere in the region of $50 million, it’s hard to see any real desire to look for the key to the coffers, let alone crack open the moneybox. Is this the JACC saying; we’ve done our bit, time to move on?

And if this is the case, then I’m afraid the JACC’s bit is pretty miniscule, all things considered. Equipped with the best experts and the best of technology, and a host of independent experts standing on the sidelines and willing to help (but having to be content with scraps of information fed to them like a game of Russian nesting dolls), the JACC and partners told us very little and ultimately found nothing. And, yet, it was ordinary souls walking coastlines for months or accidental travelers and tourists who found the most tangible, physical evidence of all that we have of 9M-MRO. Some might argue, armed with far more than us mere mortals, the JACC had the easiest task when you consider from the outset that it held all the known cards in the deck. Only they sat around the table that counts and only they can speak about how really well the players worked together and how much information was shared.

It would be easy to paint with a brushstroke all the men and women who have worked below higher levels of management and command in the search and investigation into Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Bash the crews of Fugro Worldwide and Phoenix International, bash the ATSB and RAAF in Australia, bash the ATC, RMAF, RMP and DCA in Malaysia, and bash the Chinese authorities who after just a few weeks appeared to adopt the role of reluctant bride by way of family commitment. Maybe ICAO should have stepped in long ago and knocked heads together. Knock yourself out bashing and blaming and pointing the finger at where you think it all went wrong. But if the truth be told, most of these people are ordinary men and women doing their jobs or serving in forces. Decisions and orders rarely come from the bottom or middle up. They come from the top down, as does poor management and execution of plans. Reserve your ire for the right people and the right time.

Today may be the day the perilous house of cards built comes tumbling down. The two final paragraphs of the JACC communiqué are ominous for the families of those on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. It is the tone of those happy to erect tombstones and memorials rather than deliver on the early promised principles of intent.

“Today’s announcement is significant for our three countries, but more importantly for the family and friends of those on board the aircraft. We again take this opportunity to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives and acknowledge the enormous loss felt by their loved ones. 

“We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.”

Indeed. Let’s honor the memory of those who lost their lives, by all means, but honoring memories is not going to tell us how 239 people lost their lives, and whether the events of March 8th, 2014 will unfold again for another 239 people or more on another aircraft “at some point in the future”.

Hope is not borne of the future; it is engraved in our hearts and in our actions of the past. We never stop searching when there are answers to be found and lessons to be learned.

I would join with Voice370 in imploring the JACC to reconsider their rigid stance and reevaluate what can be done and how the search for MH370 can move forward, not fold away the tables and chairs for now as if this was the RMS Titanic and tell us in a communiqué what they will not do.

That is the absolute least the families of those on flight MH370 deserve. Not to search on for the truth, however difficult and at whatever cost would be abhorrent to the memory of those who died and an unhealing wound upon the aviation industry we may all live to regret at some point in the future.      

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