Malaysia Airlines search ‘most botched in history’

17 March 2014

The following interview was heard on ABC Radio program The World Today in Australia.

ELEANOR HALL: A senior aviation writer says the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane is “one of the most botched aircraft investigations in modern history”.

Geoffrey Thomas is the editor of the website and he told David Mark that governments should be telling the Malaysian authorities they’re not competent to run the investigation.

DAVID MARK: Geoffrey Thomas, we now have the situation where the Malaysian government is telling us that 25 countries are involved in this search and there is this enormously wide arc; that they’re saying that the plane could be anywhere within that general region, as far north as Kazakhstan or somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. What is going on?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: Look, unfortunately we have not been told by the Malaysians in a timely fashion about the shutting off of the ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System), the shutting off of the transponder, the plane going to the west.

Millions of dollars has been wasted, days have been wasted searching in the wrong area. I think this is, without doubt, one of the most botched aircraft investigations in modern history.

DAVID MARK: What explains the fact that this information is only coming out now – the fact that the ACARS system was turned off; that we only found out about this over the weekend?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: This is a very good question that the Malaysians have got to answer, because this information would have been available to them in real time on Saturday the 8th of March. It took them one week to confirm what they knew seven days earlier and this is inexcusable. It’s absolutely inexcusable in this day and age that we’ve had these delays.


DAVID MARK: If that information had been made more public on the 8th of March, would that have helped in trying to find the plane?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: Look, absolutely. I mean, for instance, the whole 10 or 15 nations wouldn’t have wasted time looking in the South China Sea; they would have been looking over in the Indian Ocean, west of Malaysia, not east of Malaysia.

You know, a critical, critical time has been lost here and it’s just inexcusable and it’s dashed the hopes of the relatives and given them a torturous seven days of theory, then no theory, then counter-theory. All of that could have been dashed and we could have been looking in the right place.

DAVID MARK: Who is to blame?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: You’d have to say, without further clarification, the Malaysian air investigation, the Department of Civil Aviation in Malaysia is to blame. They’re running the investigation. It’s not Malaysian Airlines’ fault, it’s the fault of the authorities and the military in Malaysia as well.

DAVID MARK: They’re continuing to run the investigation, the Australian Orions which are involved in the search are answering to those very same authorities, so is the right organisation handling it?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: I would have to say I don’t believe it is. I would like to think that the American NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) or the Australian ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) should take over.

I mean, there have been cases, for instance, where the Australian ATSB has conducted investigations in other countries on their behalf at their request. I think it’s time that, you know, there was more authority given to some like the ATSB or the American NTSB.


DAVID MARK: Does that mean that, really, someone should be standing up to the Malaysian authorities and saying, you’re not competent to run this investigation or to run this search?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: Look, I believe so, because it is inexcusable that we have to wait one week to find out information that was available on the day. There’s no question – this information is transmitted in real time. And in this day and age of electronics, aeroplanes feed information continuously back to home base and/or to engine manufacturers who monitor planes in real time. They knew what was going on, on the day.

DAVID MARK: In the meantime we’re being told that this aeroplane may be anywhere within an area of around about a 5000km or more radius, circle. It’s an enormous area. Is there any hope of actually finding something?

GEOFFREY THOMAS: Look, one would love to say yes, there’s hope. But if it went south into the middle of the Indian Ocean, then the chances of finding something are remote.

And this aeroplane may join a long list of planes that have disappeared over the last century with no trace whatsoever.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s aviation writer Geoffrey Thomas speaking to David Mark.


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