As anniversary approaches, MH370 flight mystery stirs ‘unimaginable pain’ – dpa international

dpa

Six years on, the unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 stands as one of aviation’s murkiest and most grimly compelling tragedies.

Danica Weeks, whose New Zealander husband was among 239 people onboard, told dpa: “The not knowing of where or what happened to our loved ones causes us unimaginable pain.””

At 1:19 am on March 8, 2014, as MH370 was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, a voice from the cockpit replied to air traffic control with “Goodnight. Malaysian three seven zero.”

Those were the last words ever heard from the soon-to-vanish aircraft.

Amid apparent miscommunication between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, as the flight was to cross into Vietnamese airspace over the South China Sea, MH370 turned west, veering off-course across peninsular Malaysia.

It went north over the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest maritime trade conduits, before heading out over the Andaman Sea and beyond the reach of radar around an hour later.

The most widely held view, which is based on the aircraft’s fuel load and commercial satellite data known as “handshakes,” is that MH370 then flew south into the Indian Ocean, where it would likely have plummeted or glided into some of the planet’s roughest and remotest waters.

Around 2,000 kilometres south of Australia’s west coast, this swathe of ocean is “as close to nowhere as it is possible to be,” according to Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister at the time of the disappearance.

Six Australians were among 14 nationalities onboard MH370, along with 153 Chinese passengers and 50 Malaysian crew and passengers. Four French passengers, two Ukrainians, one Dutch and one Russian were also onboard.

Though the first confirmed piece of MH370 wreckage was found on a beach on the French-controlled Indian Ocean island of Reeunion on July 29, 2015 – making it likely that MH370 met its end somewhere in the lonely vastness of that ocean – the location of the body of the aircraft remains unknown.

A crash-landing would likely have shattered the aircraft into fragments, compounding the difficulties of an underwater search of stretches of ocean some 5,000-6.000 metres deep, where storms can stir waves that roar up to 30 metres high.

Despite several multinational searches, only a few fragments of the aircraft – those which washed up on East African beaches thousands of kilometres west – have been found.

Conspiracy theories about the aircraft’s fate have proliferated, ranging from it landing in the Cambodian countryside or as far north as Kazakhstan. The official Malaysian investigations into MH370’s disappearance could not determine a cause.

Abbott told a TV documentary broadcast in Australia in February 2020 that his Malaysian government counterparts were of the view that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah carried out a suicide-mass murder.

“My understanding – my very clear understanding – from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here, they thought it was a murder-suicide by the pilot,” Abbott said.

“If this is true, the Malaysian government has lied to us and all the search teams by having them search on the premise that the pilot was not in control of MH370 at the end of the flight,” Weeks said. “So the Malaysian government should be called out to answer as to why they lied or covered up the truth.”

Malaysia’s government was then headed by Najib Razak, who is now on trial for corruption after losing 2018 elections. Najib replied to Abbott’s claims by saying it was unfair to suggest that the pilot could be the culprit given the lack of evidence, but added that his government did not rule out any explanation.

The official version of events is that MH370 was deliberately steered off-course but that the “rogue pilot” theory has no proof and Zaharie had “no known history of apathy, anxiety, or irritability.”

“The possibility of intervention by a third party cannot be excluded,” stated the official safety investigation report, which was released on July 30 2018.

“We are not of the opinion it could be an event committed by the pilot,” lead investigator Koh Soon Chong said at the time.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders – which would provide vital information about what happened that fateful night six years ago – were never found.

On February 10, 2020, Malaysia’s Transport Ministry stated that it had not decided on relaunching the search for MH370 but “will review any new evidence that it officially receives.”

Oliver Plunkett, CEO of Ocean Infinity, a US exploration company that carried out the most recent search for MH370, told dpa: “Whilst no new search is imminent, we continue to actively engage with a number of subject experts to identify where any new search might be focused.”

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