Malaysian PM admits early blunders in search for MH370
By P. Prem Kumar, Wednesday, May 14, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has admitted to some missteps and errors in the first few days of the country's search for missing flight Malaysia Airlines MH370.
In an opinion piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Najib agreed that a contradictory and chaotic public message and a slow start to search and rescue operations in the initial days following the plane’s disappearance were a mistake.
He said Malaysian authorities “didn’t get everything right” and went on to state that the government would investigate why the country's air-traffic controllers, after first noticing MH370 was missing, took four hours to launch search and rescue efforts.
“But we didn't get everything right. In the first few days after the plane disappeared, we were so focused on trying to find the aircraft that we did not prioritize our communications," he said.
“But the plane vanished at a moment between two countries' air-traffic controls that caused maximum confusion. Despite this, the search began about a third quicker than during the Air France flight 447 tragedy in 2009."
According to New York Times reporter Matthew Wald, although it took five days to find most of the wreckage from flight 447, only around 3 percent was initially recovered. It wasn't until 22 months later that an oceanographic search team found the aircraft at a depth of around 3,950 meters (13,000 feet).
"Nevertheless, the response time should and will be investigated,” he wrote.
Razak also called for international aviation regulators to implement real-time tracking of airliners to prevent the repetition of such a devastating crisis as the MH370.
Najib said changes that are needed should “make it harder for an aircraft to simply disappear, and easier to find any aircraft that did.”
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) held a special meeting earlier this week in Canada to discuss growing calls for real-time tracking of aircraft by satellite, cloud storage of “black box” data and other innovations.
“One of the most astonishing things about this tragedy is the revelation that an airliner the size of a Boeing 777 can vanish, almost without a trace," said Razak.
“In an age of smartphones and mobile Internet, real-time tracking of commercial airplanes is long overdue,” he wrote, adding that regulators should also change crucial communications systems to prevent them being manually shut off.
Malaysia - relying on several reports made by aviation experts - had said MH370′s transponder, which relays an aircraft’s location, and its Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems (ACARS) - which transmits information on a plane’s mechanical health - appear to have been shut off around the time it went missing.
Najib also supported calls to extend the battery life of location beacons for aircraft flight data recorders and to expand the capacity of cockpit voice recorders - current black box beacons possess a battery life of around 30 days. The European Union has proposed increasing that to 90 days.
Cockpit voice recorders can now only record the last two hours of pilot conversations. In MH370′s case, any conversations that took place as the plane was diverted early in its mysterious flight would have been overwritten.
Some of the changes being considered by the industry were first proposed after Air France flight 447 crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people, but little has been done.
These changes may not have prevented the MH370 or Air France 447 tragedies. But they would make it harder for an aircraft to simply disappear, as well as make it easier to find any aircraft that did, the premier said.
“The global aviation industry must not only learn the lessons of MH370 but implement them. The world learned from Air France but didn’t act. The same mistake must not be made again,” he stressed.
“In the passage of time, I believe Malaysia will be credited for doing its best under near-impossible circumstances."
The ICAO meeting this week is expected to lead to a working group that should present recommendations within five months.
MH370 vanished March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
Despite a massive international search in the Indian Ocean, no trace has been found.
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