After over 21 days, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the Malaysian government, and the 26 countries involved in SAR are still where they started off at: nowhere. Malaysia has been directing SAR like a wild goose chase since day 1, initially starting in the South China Sea before heading over Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca and finally to the depths of the Indian Ocean. China, Australia, France, and now New Zealand have all claimed to spot suspicious debris in the search area, but nothing has proven conclusive. Even as vast conspiracy and supernatural theories abound, perhaps the most abnormal performance of this saga has been the handling of a lost plane by this developing country and the media.
Earlier this week, MAS resorted to text messaging the passenger's families that "MH370 has been lost". Really?? After being lost for 18 days, MAS then decides to text the families that their plane is lost. Apart from stating the obvious, it's remarkable how MAS chose texting as the preferred communication channel for such an announcement. And to add insult to injury, MAS made initial "payments" of only $5,000 USD to each family, which is probably barely enough to cover lodging and food expenses of those who have been housed in at PEK for 18 days. One has to wonder if Skytrax is going to be taking all these moves into consideration before ranking MAS as a 5-star carrier in 2014.
Needless to say, Malaysian PM Najib Razak yesterday stated that "according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean." This is, of course, based on the most recent ACARS and satellite handshake messages. Many have criticized Malaysian authorities for their lack of transparency in determining aircraft communication signals, but analyzing satellite ping signals is no easy task. Think of your Internet service provider, be it Comcast, AT&T, or whatever incompetent corporation, being assigned to filter through all the Internet traffic in their database and find that one important webpage that you have accessed. This is only easy if you're the NSA.
Until the wreckage, particularly the black box, is recovered, we won't know what in the world happened to MH370. Probable speculations include pilot suicide, unsuccessful hijacking, on-board fire, and mass electrical failure. Based on satellite imagery, the most probable location of the plane is somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,000 miles southwest of Perth, Australia (aka the middle of nowhere). It could still be weeks before anything is found since you need to locate the haystack before you can find the needle within. But without a black box, which will cease pinging 30 days after the crash, we'll never know what happened in that cockpit. Air France 447, which crashed in the middle of the Atlantic in 2009, was found a few days after the accident due to functioning ACARS and a transponder. The black box, however, wasn't recovered until after another year, and the investigation didn't conclude until 2012. MH370 could take longer, assuming it can ever be found.
It should be noted that the $5,000 initial payment was mostly intended for lodging and meals reimbursement for the families. It's unclear as to how much each family will receive, but it could be anywhere from $400,000 to $10 million depending on the lawsuits. MAS, which has been in the red for the past 3 years, is already in need of a government bailout, and MH370 is going to be more than just a dent in their financial recovery efforts.
Meanwhile, British Airways, which was marketing their "To Fly, to Serve" campaign, chose the wrong words that dissed their partner MAS. Fortunately, this was flashed months ago, and BA has wisely discontinued it.
Let's hope they find the plane soon, and thoughts and prayers to all the families. Oh, and more bucks from MAS too.