TIME

After the MH17 Ukraine Crash, Malaysians Face Another Catastrophe

Malaysia Airlines hit again
Malaysia Airlines endures its second major accident of 2014 Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

Four months after MH370 went missing, Malaysia endures another horrific plane accident, leaving relatives of victims bewildered

Two Malaysia Airlines flight attendants embrace at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. They hold on to each other for a moment, then wipe their tears and straighten their light-blue, flowered dresses. Today, these uniforms signal so much more than an employment at an airline. They declare community—a message as important as any, in this time of sorrow and anger.

Malaysia is in a state of shock. Only four months have passed since MH flight 370 vanished into thin air on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Now, the unthinkable has happened again. MH17, heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, exploded in midair, scattering charred aircraft and body parts over a vast field in an embattled province in eastern Ukraine.

Once again, crisis groups have been assembled in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, grieving relatives gathered, press conferences held. On Friday evening, a ”rescue” team including forensic experts and a group of Malaysia Airlines volunteers boarded a private plane to Kiev to partake in the investigation on the ground—an investigation that, because of conflict on the ground in Ukraine, may prove all but impossible. Yet back home, Malaysian feel stuck in a state of ghastly déjà vu.

”We haven’t collected ourselves yet from flight 370,” a pilot at Malaysia Airlines who wishes to stay unnamed tells TIME. He says that he flew on several occasions with the co-pilot on MH370, but didn’t know anybody in the crew personally this time. Yet, it was with a heavy heart he came to work this morning. ”None of us said anything to each other, but we didn’t have to. We knew. Right now, I have very mixed emotions. Sadness and anger. How can something like this happen in 2014? You can’t just shoot down a plane!”

Although it’s not yet been confirmed how MH17 crashed, most early opinions—including from defense officials in Washington—point to a ground-to-air missile strike. Pro-Russian rebels have recently been bragging about their seizure of missile systems that would be capable of hitting planes flying at high altitude, and which may have been used against Ukrainian cargo planes that were downed over the past week.

But while basic questions about the crash are still unresolved, relatives of passengers on MH17 face none of the agonizing uncertainty that surrounded the fate of MH370’s victims. Graphic of that debris-strewn field in Ukraine have seen to that. ”My cousins knew when they saw the reports on CNN,” says Johari Redzuan at Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, where the bereaved relatives have been gathered. “They were in constant touch with their sister ahead of her trip, so they knew exactly what flight she was on. They were all looking so much forward to it.”

Redzuan’s late cousin hadn’t been home for five years, but now they were planning to celebrate Eid-ul Fitr, the end of Ramadan, together for the first time since she moved to Geneva, over 40 years ago.

“You would think that we would be raging because someone killed our relatives, but we’re not,” says Redzuan, trying to explain the surprising calm of many relatives at the Marriott. ”Maybe it has to do with our fasting, but there’s really a feeling of togetherness here at the hotel. When the Deputy Prime Minister came here to talk to us, we joined together in prayer for the rescue team in Ukraine. They have to travel through such dangerous terrain to get to the crash site.”

Redzuan admits that he’s still in shock, and that the crying goes on intermittently upstairs in their rooms, with every call or discussion leading back to memories of their departed sister or cousin. Yet, they’re licensed to grieve, with a certainty that relatives of MH370 victims never had. In that, at least, they can find comfort, gratitude and unity.

TIME Ukraine

Rebels Control the Crash Site Of Downed Malaysia Plane

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

MH17 crashed in territory controlled by the rebels. They're looking for the flight recorders and say they'll send them to Moscow

The Malaysia Airlines flight apparently shot down on Thursday over eastern Ukraine crashed in a kind of no man’s land. The central government withdrew from that patch of territory months ago, leaving it to the bands of separatist fighters who now represent the only figures of authority around the crash site. One of their first orders of business, their leaders say, will be to recover the flight recorders from flight MH17 and hand them over to their allies in Moscow. “High-class experts work there,” Andrei Purgin, one of the top rebel commanders, told local media hours after the crash. “They will be able to establish the cause of the catastrophe for sure.”

But that plan may not sit well with the families of the passengers – nearly 300 of them are feared dead – nor with the foreign governments whose citizens have perished in the crash. Since the armed rebellion began in eastern Ukraine this spring, Moscow has been accused of aiding the rebel fighters, providing them with weapons, volunteers and political cover, while the Russian media has cast them as heroes and Russian patriots. The crash of flight MH17 has left the rebel leaders scrambling to deny all involvement in shooting it down, and now they may be in control of important sources of evidence that might help determine the cause of the disaster. Without the permission of the rebels, it would be impossible for any outsiders even to recover the remains of the victims.

So far the militants claim to be guarding the site. But Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed separatist government, said that the wreckage could be bombed from the air at any moment. “We have received intelligence that an explosive rocket strike could hit the crash site very soon in order to alter the scene and destroy clues,” he told Russia’s leading news agency, RIA Novosti. “We call on the international community to help pressure the Ukrainian side, so that all military actions around the fallen plane stop.”

The Ukrainian government, for its part, has condemned the downing of the plane as a “terrorist attack” and called for an urgent investigation, with President Petro Poroshenko urging the International Civil Aviation Organization and foreign governments to send delegations to help. “All possible search and rescue operations are being carried out,” he said in a statement on his website.

But it is not clear what operations he meant. The town of Torez, where flight MH17 reportedly fell, is deep in the heart of rebel territory, and the Ukrainian authorities cannot even reach it without first forcing the separatist fighters to retreat from the area. At the recent pace of fighting, that could take days if not weeks, allowing the rebel commanders plenty of time to remove the flight recorders and otherwise manipulate the crash site.

The simplest solution, like so much about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, would seem to wind through Moscow, which could encourage the separatist leaders to allow investigators to access the scene. But until then, it will remain under the control of the very people who may have caused the tragedy in the first place.

TIME Ukraine

Exclusive: Separatist Leader Says Rebels Did Not Shoot Down Flight MH17

Rebels in eastern Ukraine tell TIME's Simon Shuster they lack the firepower to have shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Their recent record of surface-to-air attacks suggests otherwise

The pro-Russia separatist leader was not in a mood to discuss the downing of a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine on Thursday. He had heard about it on the news – 280 passengers and 15 crew on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur – possibly shot out of the sky with a missile or some other projectile over the war-ravaged region of Donetsk.

Ukrainian officials had already laid the blame on the separatist rebels in that region. So who was responsible? Oleg Tsarev, one of the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels did not shoot the plane down. “We don’t have weapons that can take down a plane from that altitude,” he told TIME, minutes after news of the crash broke.

But only three weeks ago they had plenty of those weapons. At the end of June, the Russian state media had congratulated the rebels on their latest military acquisition – a set of Russian-made BUK missile launchers seized from a Ukrainian air force base. “The Donetsk resistance fighters have captured an anti-aircraft military station,” declared the Kremlin’s main television network Vesti, which has been cheering on the rebel fighters since the war in eastern Ukraine began this spring. “The skies above Donetsk will now be protected by the BUK surface-to-air missile complex,” said the headline on the channel’s website.

The rebels quickly seemed to put their new rockets to work. The downing of Ukrainian military aircraft has become almost commonplace in recent days. An AN-26 military transport plane was shot down on Monday over eastern Ukraine, and the rebel leaders confirmed the same day that they had taken its four crew members hostage after they had ejected to safety. In the two days that followed, another two Ukrainian military aircraft, both of them SU-25 fighter jets, were reportedly shot down by the rebels. And Russian media trumpeted another rebel strike late on Thursday afternoon, claiming that a Ukrainian AN-24 had gone down over the town of Torez.

That was just a few hours before reports first emerged in the Russian media that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot down over the town of Torez, just near the Russian border with Ukraine. The Ukrainian government and the rebel leaders immediately began trading blame. But the separatists’ claims that they lacked the firepower to shoot down that plane rang hollow. Asked about the BUK missiles that the rebels acquired in June – and apparently used successfully since then against the Ukrainian military – Tsarev said, “I have no more information for you,” and hung up the phone.

 

TIME Aviation

Families Launch $5 Million Fund to Find ‘Truth’ Behind Missing Plane Hunt

CHINA-AUSTRALIA-MALAYSIA-MALAYSIAAIRLINES-ACCIDENT-TRANSPORT
Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 hold candles during a prayer service at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. Wang Zhao—AFP/Getty Images

The prospect of a reward would encourage a whistleblower to come forward with secret information about the stalled investigation, families say

Frustrated by the lack of answers three months after the Malaysia Airlines disappearance, relatives of the missing are set to launch an effort Sunday to raise $5 million for a “whistle blower” reward to find informants with knowledge of the plane’s location.

A multinational effort to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared three months ago with 239 people aboard, has so far turned up empty handed. The four acoustic “pings” that spurred a grueling underwater search were not, it appears, from the plane’s coveted black box, CNN reports.

The $5-million fundraising goal, coordinated by project leader Ethan Hunt, will launch Sunday on the crowdsourcing website Indiegogo. Hunt said he believes someone knows where the plane is, and $5 million will incentivize them to come forward.

“This mystery is unprecedented in the history of aviation, and we need to work as a collective community with one goal of finding the truth, the plane and the passengers,” Hunt said.

The plane disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, and authorities have searched for the plane in the choppy waters of the Indian Ocean west of Australia for months.

[CNN]

TIME Malaysia Airlines MH370

What’s Inside a Black Box?

Flight data may hold the answers to why MH370 went missing

+ READ ARTICLE

As search and rescue crews race against time to locate the flight-data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, what might we learn from these “black boxes,” which contain hundreds of data points about the plane’s location, movements, speed, altitude and mechanical integrity?

The biggest challenge remains finding the devices in the deep waters where it is believed they lie. If recovered, investigators will sift the data in hopes of finding answers to the flight’s mysterious disappearance more than a month ago.

TIME Aviation

This Is How Much The Search For The Missing Plane Has Cost

The costs of the international search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue to build a month after the jet disappeared with 239 people aboard

The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has already cost $44 million, according to a new report, and that figure could reach well into the hundreds of millions before the search is over, making it the most expensive search in aviation history.

The $44 million figure, based on a Reuters estimate, includes money spent by the United States, China, Australia and Vietnam alone, but not spending by the other 22 countries that have contributed to the search. The figure is based on estimates of hourly costs of the various assets dedicated to the search. More has been spent in one month searching for the missing plane than was spent in two years searching for Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.

So far, Australia has borne the brunt of the expenses, since it is leading the search in the southern Indian Ocean off the western coast, but Prime Minister Tony Abbot indicated there may be some financial settling up in the future. “It’s only reasonable that we should bear this cost—it’s an act of international citizenship,” Abbot said last week. “At some point, there might need to be a reckoning, there might need to be some kind of tallying, but nevertheless we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all the countries that have a stake in this.”

[Reuters]

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Missing-Jet Search Teams Track Pings as Time Runs Out

A S-70B-2 Seahawk (Tiger 75) helicopter approaches the flight deck of Australian Navy ship HMAS Toowoomba to pick up supplies during a vertical replenishment at sea with HMAS Success as they continue to search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 6, 2014.
A Seahawk helicopter approaches the flight deck of Australian navy ship H.M.A.S. Toowoomba during a search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Australian Defence Force/Reuters

A ship has picked up electronic pulsing signals twice in a small patch of the search zone for Flight MH 370, and all attention has turned to tracking the signals before the ping emitter's battery dies. It is unknown if those are linked to the lost jet

Search teams in the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have detected three separate pulse signals that could lead to the plane’s black box, and all attention has turned to tracking the elusive radio signals before the ping emitter’s battery dies.

A Chinese ship detected one radio ping on Friday, and then a second ping on Saturday about 1.4 miles away as it recombed the search area of Australia’s west coast, reports the Associated Press. The radio signal was set to a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz, the same frequency emitted by flight-data recorders aboard the missing plane, Chinese media reported. The second ping lasted 90 seconds.

The British navy ship H.M.S. Echo, equipped with sound-locating equipment, is expected to arrive in the area early Monday.

Retired Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search, confirmed the Chinese ship had detected the search signals but was unable to confirm they are linked to the missing plane.

A third radio ping was detected Sunday 300 nautical miles away by an Australian ship using sophisticated deep-sea sound equipment supplied by the U.S. Navy. The Australian ship, Ocean Shield, will head to assist the Chinese after investigating the third pulse.

Every plane’s black box is equipped with a radio transmitter that serves as an acoustic homing beacon and has a battery life of 30 to 45 days, depending on environmental factors. The ping frequency of 37.5 kilohertz is specifically chosen to be unique from all the buzzes, clicks and other sounds of nautical animals.

But Houston, who is coordinating the search, said it was too early to draw a firm connection with the missing Boeing 777, which disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew wildly off course. “We are working in a very big ocean and within a very large search area, and so far since the aircraft went missing we have had very few leads which allow us to narrow the search area,” he said, as reported by BBC. He insisted the signal should be treated as unverified “until such time as we can provide an unequivocal determination.”

The flight recorder’s battery could die within days, increasing the urgency for the multinational search team as it races against the clock. Twelve military aircraft and 13 ships are searching three vast areas about 1,240 miles northwest of Perth, Australia.

[AP]

TIME Aviation

Black-Box Detector Joining Malaysia Jet Search

Mark Matthews Peter Leavy Ray Griggs
From right, U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy and chief of the navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs speak at a press conference at naval base HMAS Stirling about the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Perth, Australia, on March 30, 2014 Rob Griffith—AP

Australia's Maritime Safety Authority announced it was dispatching a black-box detector after a fruitless weekend of false leads

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) announced on Sunday it’s dispatching a warship with an airplane-black-box detector to aid in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That ship sets sail after objects fished out of the Indian Ocean on Saturday were determined to be unrelated to the missing aircraft.

Australian black-box-detector ship Ocean Shield will take up to four days to reach the Flight 370 search zone. That zone is now 1,150 miles (1,850 km) to the west of Australia, reports the Associated Press.

The Boeing 777’s black box, if located, could provide investigators with valuable insight into what caused the aircraft to veer far off course before vanishing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, objects retrieved from the Indian Ocean and initially suspected to be from the missing flight were determined to be “fishing equipment and other flotsam” unrelated to the flight, AMSA said.

Nine aircraft and eight ships combed the search area on Sunday looking for debris or other clues. They were joined by a merchant ship keeping an eye out as it sailed through the area, marking the greatest number of vessels involved in the MH 370 search to date.

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: March 21 — March 28

From President Obama’s first meeting with Pope Francis to the massive mudslide in Washington, to credible evidence in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 and Sochi’s stray dogs arriving in America, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME

As Search Area Expands, Mystery of Missing Malaysian Jet Deepens

A Sea Hawk helicopter departs from USS Pinckney to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight on March 9, 2014.
A Sea Hawk helicopter departs from the U.S.S. Pinckney to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft on March 9, 2014 U.S. Navy/ZUMA Press

Officials are expanding the search area to a 100-mile radius for a Malaysia Airlines 777 that went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing

Officials announced Monday that the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has expanded to a 100-nautical-mile radius after three days of scouring the waters of the Gulf of Thailand have failed to offer any clues. The widened search area includes waters over 100 miles away from the plane’s last known location between Malaysia and Vietnam, the New York Times reports.

On Saturday, the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members vanished — so far without a trace — without sending a distress signal to air-traffic controllers. Since the plane’s disappearance, about 34 aircraft and 40 ships have searched the waters for any signs of the missing Boeing 777 plane to no avail. Several false alarms, however, have been reported. An oil slick, presumed to be from the missing aircraft, was discovered to be fuel from cargo ships. Reports that pieces of the plane had been found floating in water also turned out to be untrue.

“Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we have not found anything that appear to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the director general of the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department, said at a briefing, according to CNN.

The mystery surrounding the missing plane continued to grow on Monday as reports that two passengers who possessed stolen passports had their tickets bought by an Iranian middleman. Their one-way tickets were reportedly purchased using cash from a travel agency at the Thai beach-resort town of Pattaya. According to the Associated Press, the owner of the agency said a man named “Mr. Ali” made the purchase, though she did not believe he was connected to terrorism. It is unclear, however, whether or not the two men have anything to do with the flight’s disappearance. In fact, stolen passports are a common occurrence across the globe.

Meanwhile, China sent 13 officials to Malaysia on Monday to help investigate the crash. Most of Flight MH370’s passengers — 153 out of 227 — held Chinese passports.

Authorities have yet to rule out any possible reason for the missing plane.

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