TIME MH370

Underwater Search for Missing Plane Resumes

Malaysia Missing Plane
A member of the Kechara Buddhist organization offers prayers for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at Kechara Forest Retreat in Bentong, outside Kuala Lumpur, on April 13, 2014 Lai Seng Sin—AP

Crews will use sonar, video cameras and jet fuel sensors to scour the seabed for the Boeing 777

(SYDNEY) — The hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 resumed Monday in a desolate stretch of the Indian Ocean, more than six months after the jet vanished.

The GO Phoenix, the first of three ships that will spend up to a year hunting for the wreckage far off Australia’s west coast, is expected to spend 12 days hunting for the jet before heading to shore to refuel.

Crews will use sonar, video cameras and jet fuel sensors to scour the seabed for the Boeing 777, which vanished for reasons unknown on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The search has been on hold for four months so crews could map the seabed in the search zone, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) west of Australia. The 60,000-square kilometer (23,000-square mile) search site lies along what is known as the “seventh arc” — a stretch of ocean where investigators believe the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed. Officials analyzed transmissions between the plane and a satellite to estimate where it entered the water.

Two other ships being provided by Dutch contractor Fugro are expected to join the Malaysian-contracted GO Phoenix later this month.

The ships will be dragging sonar devices called towfish through the water about 100 meters (330 feet) above the seabed to hunt for the wreckage. The towfish are also equipped with sensors that can detect the presence of jet fuel, and are expected to be able to cope with the dizzying depths of the search zone, which is 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) deep in places.

If anything of interest is spotted on the sonar, crews will attach a video camera to the towfish to film the seabed.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, whose agency is leading the search, has expressed cautious optimism that the plane will eventually be found.

“We’re confident in the analysis and we’re confident that the aircraft is close to the seventh arc,” he said.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines Asked for Travelers’ ‘Bucket Lists’ in Ill-Advised Contest

A member of ground crew works on a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang
A member of ground crew works on a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 25, 2014 Olivia Harris—Reuters

Would-be passengers in Australia and New Zealand were invited to share their bucket lists in hopes of winning a free ticket

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) launched a competition in Australia and New Zealand four days ago, according to media reports, in which it said it was giving away free economy-class tickets and free iPads.

The marketing ploy was to be expected from an airline still reeling from the twin tragedies of MH17 and MH370, but the competition name was bizarre: My Ultimate Bucket List.

Contestants had to explain “What and where would you like to tick off on your bucket list?”

The Merriam-Webster definition of bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” The association is horrific, given that 537 people lost their lives flying on the airline this year.

The contest appears to have since been withdrawn, with the original competition link now leading to a 404 error page. A PDF of the competition terms and conditions could be found here at time of publication, but besides that there no longer appear to be details of the competition on the MAS site.

The launch of the competition was picked up in the Australian travel-industry press and even name-checked in British tabloid the Daily Mail. But perhaps MAS has since realized that asking prospective passengers to think up a bucket list before accepting a free ticket on one of its planes might be construed as macabre.

The airline can at least be grateful that online gaffes can be deleted. In 2003, the Hong Kong Tourism Board ran an ad promising would-be visitors that “Hong Kong will take your breath away.” At the time, SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — had killed about 100 people, mostly in Hong Kong and China. But the ad ran in British and European print magazines — and there was no time to change the slogan before the presses started to roll.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysians Want the Bodies of Their MH17 Dead Back Before the Ramadan Fast Ends

Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol dressed for iftar dinner with other relatives of MH17 victims at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on July 20, 2014. Zulrusdi's cousin was returning after a three-year work stint in Kazakhstan with his wife and four children on July 17, when the Malaysia Airlines plane they were traveling with was shot down midair over eastern Ukraine. Per Liljas

For relatives gathered at a hotel south of Kuala Lumpur, it's a heart-breaking waiting game

Update: This story was updated at 22:45 ET on July 22 to include an official quote on the correct handling of dead bodies in Islam.

Dusk settles and Malaysia comes together to break the daily fasting of Ramadan. Hundreds of people in elegant attire mill about the lavish iftar buffet at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur. Two floors down, however, the mood is less festive. There, MH17 relatives gather around tables in one of the conference rooms and yearn for a completely different religious observance.

“We need to get the bodies home to expedite the burials,” says Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol, whose cousin was on the plane together with his whole family. “Otherwise, how will our family members get peace?”

Four days after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels who control the area have piled almost 200 corpses into refrigerated boxcars and used cranes to move chunks of the downed aircraft. International investigators still have limited access to the crash site, and Western governments have condemned the separatists for tampering with the scene.

A rebel leader said Sunday that they will hand over the bodies to the International Civil Aviation Organization, yet that depends on an as yet nonexistent cooperation between rebels, the Ukraine government and international investigators. A government-appointed counselor at the Marriott says he has to shield relatives from media coverage from Ukraine. Zulrusdi has caught images of remains putrefying on the fields, and rebels carrying away bodies in plastic bags. International media has carried reports of victims’ luggage and personal belongings being rummaged through and possibly looted.

“I’m very angry,” Zulrusdi says. “They’re inhumane, they don’t understand. First they murder our relatives then they keep the corpses with them.”

Pressure is mounting on Russia to take a firmer role in securing the investigation and recovery of bodies. The U.S. has been particularly harsh in their allusions to Russian culpability. On Sunday, the embassy in Kiev stated that “MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine,” that Russia had sent “a convoy of military equipment” to the separatists over the weekend of July 12-13, and that Moscow had trained the rebels in the use of air defense systems.

However, officials in Malaysia have chosen a more cautious tone.

“Culpability is only the third priority of the Malaysian government,” says Bridget Welsh, senior research associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University. “It would be counterproductive for their goal of bringing back the bodies to take a harder position on Russia now.”

James Chin, professor of political science at Monash University, says that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put himself in a bind by promising to recover the bodies from MH17 before next week, when the fasting period of Ramadan ends.

“It will be almost impossible to do this, and it will show how powerless Malaysia is in a situation like this, involving big players like the U.S. and Russia,” he says.

A Malaysian team is currently in Ukraine to take care of the Muslim bodies, equipped with kafan, the ritual cloth that remains should be wrapped in.

“The way the bodies were handled by the separatist has not only made us angry but has saddened us,” Othman Mustapah, director general of the Department of Islamic Development, tells TIME. “Islam places great emphasis on respecting the dead body. Not only must burial rites be managed properly, with care and in a civilized manner, the bodies must be washed, wrapped in kafan and buried as soon as possible.”

Dr Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin, former mufti of Perlis province, adds: “If you cannot find the body, there is a special prayer that can be read. As for the relatives of MH370, it’s been up to them to decide when to do that.”

The next-of-kin at the Marriott Hotel continue to fast, join for iftar in the evening and pray that the remains of their relatives will soon be retrieved. Zulrusdi knows that in this process, his government only has limited power.

“It’s like the Malaysian saying, when the elephants fight, the little animals get trampled underfoot.”

TIME Aviation

Malaysia, the World’s Unluckiest Airline, Will Now Struggle to Survive

Malaysia’s national carrier was already in a weak financial position. Now its future is highly uncertain

Only four months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished somewhere in the Indian Ocean with 239 passengers on board, Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, causing the loss of another 298 souls — an unprecedented blow to a major international airline. Even a robust operator would have trouble overcoming twin disasters like that. But the fact is that Malaysia’s flag carrier is in no financial shape to absorb these catastrophes. In fact, analysts wonder if it will ever be able to recover.

“The outlook is very dire,” says Mohshin Aziz, an aviation analyst at Kuala Lumpur–based Maybank. The airline, he fears, “won’t be able to survive beyond the year in its current form.”

The next months could prove humbling for an airline that had grand ambitions. The Malaysian government had high hopes that its national carrier would compete with the region’s best, and invested much money and emotion into building it. But Malaysia Airlines got badly squeezed in the fiercely contested Asian airline industry. Its cost base is too high to compete with lean and mean budget carrier AirAsia, also based in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, it lacks the prestigious brand image to raise its ticket prices and take on East Asia’s more premier airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific. As a result, the company has been bleeding for years. The airline’s Kuala Lumpur–listed parent, Malaysian Airline System, has racked up losses of more than $1.4 billion since 2011. Management has tried cutting costs and improving service to turn around the airline’s fortunes, but such efforts were making only minimal progress.

Now whatever hope remained may get dashed by the two crushing tragedies. Analysts are concerned that the fallout will scare passengers away from flying on the airline, or force management to discount tickets to convince them to book — reducing revenue either way. That could push the airline’s fragile finances to the breaking point, causing “the ticking time bomb to explode,” says Daniel Tsang, founder of consultancy Aspire Aviation in Hong Kong. That reality will likely force Malaysia Airlines to take more drastic measures to stay afloat. Even before the latest crash over Ukraine, CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told shareholders in June that the MH370 incident “sadly now added an entirely unexpected dimension, damaging our brand and our business reputation, and accelerating the urgency for radical change.”

There are options, but all are equally unsavory. Mohshin believes that Malaysia Airlines will have to greatly shrink its business, perhaps eradicating most of the international routes it flies, to focus on the more profitable parts of the operations. “It will never get back to the large size it was before,” he says. “The sooner they accept that fact, the better off they will be.” Tsang says that bankruptcy proceeding would be a “pretty good option” for Malaysia Airlines. That process would make it easier to strip out more of the legacy costs and make the airline more competitive.

What happens next ultimately depends on the Malaysian government. A state-controlled investment fund owns a majority of the shares in the carrier’s parent company, and that makes the future of Malaysia Airlines a political issue. The airline’s powerful union has been able to fight off previous efforts at radically overhauling the carrier and analysts say that rescuing Malaysia Airlines this time will require a high degree of political commitment. Still, if Malaysia Airlines manages to streamline its operations, it may live to fly another day.

“The restructuring will be painful for a lot of people,” Tsang says. “But a phoenix can rise from ashes.”

TIME Malaysia

Anger, Agony and Disbelief as Malaysians Awake to News of MH17

Malaysia Malaysia Airlines
An electronic board displays "Pray for MH17" at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 18, 2014 Joshua Paul—AP

First a jet vanishes over the Indian Ocean. Now this

Updated: July 18, 2014, at 02:25 ET

Malaysians are reacting with shock and anguish to the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. The Boeing 777 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and crashed in an area controlled by pro-Russia rebels — just months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak in a statement. “At this early stage, however, Malaysia is unable to verify the cause of this tragedy. But we must — and we will — find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone can be left unturned.”

There were 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard Flight 17. Of those, 154 people were from the Netherlands. There were also 27 from Australia, 43 from Malaysia (including the crew and two infants), 12 from Indonesia (including another infant) and others from Europe, the Philippines and Canada, according to a statement posted Thursday by Malaysia Airlines.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that distressed relatives have gathered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to await news of family members. In between sobs, Akmar Mohamad Noor told AP that her older sister was on the flight, returning to Malaysia to celebrate Eid with the family for the first time in 30 years.

“She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, ‘See you soon,'” Akmar said.

There are reports that furious relatives waited for hours at the airport, unable to speak to officials from Malaysia Airlines and prevented from entering operational areas by security guards.

“We have been waiting for four hours. We found out the news from international media. The Facebook is more efficient than MAS,” one man said to waiting media.

Malaysian news outlet the Star gave blanket coverage to the crash Thursday morning, but, seeking a human dimension to the tragedy, most readers were drawn to a simple, poignant story on the worried messages left by colleagues on the Facebook page of cabin attendant Angeline Premila, believed to have been on the downed flight.

The Malaysian Insider reported on the extraordinary fate of cabin crew member Sanjid Singh, who reportedly swapped shifts so that he could be aboard Flight 17. Months earlier, his wife, also a Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member, had swapped out of the now vanished Flight 370 at the last minute, saving her life.

News site Astro Awani also carried news of the families of other crew members. Relatives of flight 17’s chief steward, Mohd. Ghaffar Abu Bakar, 54, said they heard the news on TV. The father of cabin attendant Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh was unaware his daughter, 31, was aboard Flight 17 until informed by her friends late on Thursday evening. “She had asked us to send a photo of her nephew … She sounded cheerful,” he told journalists regarding his last communication with her on July 16.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Twitterverse is abuzz with the news about the crash. “Following the uproar over the disappearance of MH 370, now [we are] shocked by MH17 that crashed in Ukraine. Oh God,” said @tracy_elcia, writing in Bahasa Malaysia.

Many users were in disbelief with the two successive tragedies that befall the country. “My dear God. The MH370 case is not finished, the MH17 case arrives. #PrayForMH17 #PrayForMH370,” said @apizshahh.

In the deeply religiously Muslim-majority country, some Twitter users turned to God for consolation. “Nightmare?? Only Allah knows what was happening.. #prayforMH17,” said @mohdzarulhiqmi.

TIME Aviation

MH370 Was on Autopilot When it Crashed, Say Australian Officials

The new search area is based on fresh analysis of existing satellite data from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard

(SYDNEY) — Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident the jet was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the latest shift in the search for the doomed airliner.

After analyzing data between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said.

“Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel,” Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation’s capital.

Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied: “The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it’s because it’s been switched on.”

But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off-course from the jet’s destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.

“We couldn’t accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot,” Transport Minister Warren Truss said. “It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot.”

The latest nugget of information from the investigation into Flight 370 came as officials announced yet another change in the search area for the wreckage of the plane that vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The new search area is located several hundred kilometers (miles) southwest of the most recent suspected crash site, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) off Australia’s west coast, Dolan said. Powerful sonar equipment will scour the seabed for wreckage in the new search zone, which officials calculated by reanalyzing the existing satellite data.

The shift was expected, with Dolan saying last week the new zone would be south of an area where a remote-controlled underwater drone spent weeks fruitlessly combing 850 square kilometers (330 square miles) of seabed. That search area was determined by a series of underwater sounds initially thought to have come from the plane’s black boxes. But those signals are now widely believed to have come from some other source.

The new 60,000 square kilometer (23,000 square mile) search area falls within a vast expanse of ocean that air crews have already scoured for floating debris, to no avail. Officials have since called off the air search, since any debris would likely have sunk long ago.

The hunt is now focused underwater. Beginning in August, private contractors will use powerful side-scan sonar equipment capable of probing ocean depths of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to comb the ocean floor in the new search zone. The job is expected to take 12 months to complete.

Meanwhile, two survey ships are mapping uncharted expanses of seabed in the search zone before the sonar scanning starts. Dolan said it was possible the mapping equipment could detect wreckage that may be lying on the seafloor, but that it was highly unlikely.

The search area has changed multiple times in the months since Flight 370 vanished, as officials struggled to make sense of the limited data the flight left in its wake after it dropped off radar. The new search zone was largely identified by an analysis of hourly transmissions, or “handshakes,” between the plane and a satellite.

Truss said he was optimistic that the latest search zone is, indeed, the most likely crash site. But he warned that finding the plane remains a huge task.

“The search will still be painstaking,” he said. “Of course, we could be fortunate and find it in the first hour or the first day — but it could take another 12 months.”

 

TIME MH370

MH370 Search Will Move to New Area of Ocean

Crew aboard the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield move the U.S. Navyís Bluefin-21 into position for deployment, in the southern Indian Ocean to look for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370
Crew aboard the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield move the U.S. Navyís Bluefin-21 into position for deployment in the southern Indian Ocean April 14, 2014 to look for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the U.S. Navy. Australian officials will announce a new search zone for the missing plane. U.S. Navy/Reuters

As Malaysian police deny reports that captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah is the primary suspect in the plane's disappearance

Australian officials will announce a new search zone for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on Wednesday, the agency leading the search announced Sunday.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said re-analyzed satellite data could move the search zone several hundred kilometers south of where it had been looking, CNN reports.

Since the flight went missing in March with 239 people aboard, search efforts have found no sign of the Boeing 777 plane or its passengers.

London newspaper The Sunday Times reported this weekend that Malaysian police have identified captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah as the primary suspect in the plane’s disappearance, but a police spokesperson denied the claims and told CNN that nothing had been conclusive so far and that the investigation was on-going.

The Times’ report acknowledges that police have not ruled out terrorism or mechanical errors and that the case against him relies on circumstantial evidence.

Shah was the only person in the flight crew who had no future plans or obligations, according to the story, and he had reportedly plotted and deleted flight paths to small runways across the Indian Ocean on a flight simulator at his home.

[CNN]

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Vows to Continue Hunt for Missing Jet as Search Reaches 100 Days

A milestone is greeted with promises to forge ahead

Malaysian authorities promised Sunday not to give up the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, as the massive international hunt passed the 100-day mark.

Families of some of the passengers who were aboard gathered in Beijing to pray, BBC reports. The flight disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Authorities believe it went down in the Indian Ocean with no survivors, and it has since led to the largest, longest, and most expensive search in modern commercial aviation history.

“This search effort is unprecedented in sheer scale and complexity,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement Sunday, the Associated Press reports. “We reaffirm our commitment with renewed vigor to locate the missing MH370.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also expressed his sympathy and support for the families on Sunday. “On this hundredth day since went missing, remembering those on-board & their families,” he wrote on Twitter. “M’sia remains committed to the search effort.”

TIME Aviation

This Is the Country That’s Spent the Most Searching for MH370

Which countries are footing the bill?

Though Malaysian officials said on Monday that the country has spent $8.6 million to locate MH370, and will split costs with Australia in the next phase of the search, estimates of expenditures by other countries indicate that Malaysia has thus far spent relatively little.

MH370 Flight Search Expenditure By Country

Local media sources estimated that Vietnam had spent $8 million in the initial search phases, according to Reuters, though Vietnamese officials have not confirmed this statistic. If true, then Malaysia has spent only about 7% more than Vietnam, which scaled back its search efforts four days after the plane disappeared.

Australia is estimated to have spent the most in the MH370 search: over $43 million, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday. The U.S has spent $11.4 million, officials at the Pentagon told NBC in April. Chinese officials have not disclosed the amount the country has spent, though Chinese warships are estimated to cost at least $100,000 per day to operate. Another 22 countries have contributed to the search efforts.

According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, a country is required to assist distressed aircrafts in its territory, and the country where the aircraft is registered is granted the opportunity to help, too.

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Has Spent $8.6 Million on Missing Plane Search

Costs expected to rise as the search area expands

Malaysia has spent $8.6 million so far on the massive international search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, officials said Monday, the first time they’ve cited a specific cost for the hunt.

That figure applies only to Malaysian agencies, Department of Civil Aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told a news conference, and “we do not know how much other countries spent,” Reuters reports.

The search for the missing plane, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, has long since become the most expensive and longest in modern commercial aviation history. And costs are expected to rise after Australian officials said last month that the missing aircraft was not in the area of the Indian Ocean where they had been searching based on ping sounds thought to be from the plane’s black box. The expanded search area includes wide swaths of the Indian Ocean off Australia, and Azharuddin said the new search area “will not be very far away from where the search is now.”

Malaysian officials are scheduled to visit Australia on Tuesday to discuss the latest satellite analysis of the new search area. They’re also expected to visit China, home to two-thirds of the plane’s passengers, on Thursday.

[Reuters]

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