After years of investigation into the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, the Malaysian government has finally released the final report on the incident.
The report states that the plane could only have done the heading changes off route and rapid turns if the plane were under manual control by one of the pilots.
The Chief Investigator, Dr. Kok Soo Chon, said that the plane could not have been on Autopilot during the first turn.
“We performed several simulator tests including flying high and low in the simulator, the only way that plane could have turned was if it was on manual,” said Dr. Kok. “The turn back could not be attributed to an anomalous system. It has been established that the air turn back was done under manual control, not autopilot. [Loss of communications was likely due to systems] being manually turned off or power interrupted to them.”
The investigators added that they cannot determine whether the aircraft was controlled by anyone other than the pilots, refusing to rule out third party interference in the plane’s disappearance. Kok said that, while some evidence “points irresistibly to unlawful interference, such as the communications ceasing and the manual turn back,” no terrorist group has claimed responsibility.
“We can also not exclude the possibility that there’s unlawful interference by a third party. And based on the military record, there was no evidence of a rapid change in the altitude and the speed to indicate that MH370 was deliberately evading radar,” said Kok. “We are unable to determine with any certainty the reasons that the aircraft diverted from its filed planned route.”
The report, however, was able to disprove the theory that the plane was brought down as part of a suicide mission or due to a mechanical failure.
“There was no record of malfunction or defect in the aircraft that could have contributed to the disappearance,” said Kok.
“We have examined the pilot and the first officer and we are quite satisfied with their background, with their training, with their mental health. We are not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot,” Kok continued. “I’m not ruling out anything, but there were two psychiatrists in my team and they were responsible for examining the audio recordings of the pilot and they concluded there was no anxiety and no stress in the recording, it was just normal, and they also recorded the footage from CCTV. [The psychiatrists] didn’t find any significant behavioral changes.”
The report also dismissed speculation around information found on a flight simulator in the captian’s home. The simulator has evidence that the pilot had flown a route “initially similar” to the route that MH370 eventually took on his simulator. Investigators concluded that there are no suspicious implications about this information.
Another disproved theory was one that guessed that cargo in the plane, which included 4,566kg of mangosteens and 221kg of lithium-ion batteries, had caused a fire or explosion on board.
“This was highly improbable on board MH370 with a comparatively short flight duration and under controlled conditions,” the report said.
“There were 36 occasions where both lithium-ion batteries and mangosteens were shipped together to China between the period of January to May, ahd we have not found any irregularity in the packing assessment,” said Kok. “The two cargo items of interest, lithium batteries and mangosteens, were carried for a long time before and after the event and packed and loaded according to standard operating procedures.”
Kok said that it’s too early to call this the final report as no wreckage or victims have been found despite several people close to the matter labeling the report as such.
“As far as we are concerned we have done our job and search is not our area,” Kok added.
After looking over all of the available evidence, the team of investigators is unable to determine the real reason for the disappearance of MH370. The report did not provide any final word on where the wreckage of the aircraft is.
At a press conference after the release of the report, Kok did identify problems with Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Malaysia and Vietnam. Kok said that investigators found that the plane was missing for 20 minutes before anyone was alerted. This report placed most fault on the air traffic controllers.
“The air traffic controllers did not initiate the various emergency phases required of them, thereby delaying the activation of the search and rescue operations,” Kok said. “They did not maintain a continuous watch on the radar display, did not release control according to the agreed transfer time, relied too much on masked information and did not initiate the various emergency phases as required.”
The investigation also identified irregularities in how the pilots used their radios. For example, when signing off with Malaysian ATC for the last time, the pilots of MH370 didn’t read back the assigned frequency to switch to as they passed into new airspace.
The report also found that all four of MH370’s Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) malfunctioned and failed to give off normal distress signals that could have helped find the plane.
“There have been reported difficulties with ELT signals if an aircraft enters the water,” the report said. No conclusive causes of the failure were given.
Ultimately, the report did not present any new information and concluded that the full truth can not be determined until the aircraft is found.
“We cannot deny there was a turn back. We are not ruling out any possibility,” said Kok. “We are not of the opinion it could be an event committed by the pilot. In conclusion, the team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.”
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 people, disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. The aircraft flew for over six hours with satellite and navigation systems turned off before crashing into the Indian Ocean. It is one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.
“The disappearance of MH370 and the search effort are unprecedented in commercial aviation history,” the report said. “Improvements must be undertaken to ensure that this type of event is identified as soon as possible, and mechanisms are in place to track an aircraft that is not following its filed flight plan for any reason.”
Multiple attempts to locate the plane have been made since its disappearance, but nothing from the aircraft has been found save for a few pieces of wreckage that washed up on a shore in Seychelles. Earlier this year, an Australian man claimed to have found MH370 wreckage using Google Earth; authorities, however, dismissed the claim. The most recent search, conducted by US firm Ocean Infinity, turned up no results.
Due to the lack of evidence, authorities can only guess what happened during MH370’s final moments. One guess is that the aircraft ran out of fuel before falling as much as 25,000 feet per minute into the Indian ocean. Other speculation guesses that someone was at the controls of the plane until its very end and guided the plane into an area that would be hard to search. Investigators were able to map MH370’s course only after searching through satellite records.
Family members of those onboard the plane said that the report does not offer any closure. Some even claimed that parts of the report were false.
“They appear not to have questioned or challenged what was handed over to them nor was any new independent investigation launched,” said Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother was on the flight. “All in all the report did not reveal anything new or earth-shattering. No conclusions were drawn, no blame was assigned. [There is] a lack of depth in the answers and no adequate answer to some pertinent queries [in the report].
“It’s not over until MH370 is found. Therefore there can be no final report until MH370 is found and this can be prevented. The search must go on.”
New regulations are being put in place in the wake of the MH370 incident. Starting in 2021, new aircraft must have systems in place that will broadcast their locations every minute while they’re in trouble. Under regulations adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, airlines must track planes every 15 minutes starting in November.
Featured image from the Associated Press