Today, March 8, 2016, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport released its second annual interim report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, as required by international treaty. This document was highly anticipated within the community of independent MH370 investigators, as many of us hoped that it would close some of the huge gaps in our understanding. Unfortunately, it was only three pages long and contained no new information about the disappearance itself. Instead it merely restated the most basic facts of the case and indicated that a more complete final report would be issued “in the event wreckage of the aircraft is located or the search for the wreckage is terminated, whichever is the earlier.”
Given that Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, has said that the search will end if nothing is found by July, and that the high-probability zones of the search area have already been scoured, it seems likely that we will have to wait at least four more months before a substantial reckoning is made.
The new report is not entirely devoid of information, however. For one thing, it acknowledges that while the main wreckage of the plane has not been found, “a flaperon was recovered in the French island of Réunion on 29 July 2015 and was determined to have been a part of the MH370 aircraft.” No mention is made of two pieces recently discovered in Mozambique and Réunion which may or may not have come from MH370. A cryptic undated press release recently issued by the Ministry of Transport both suggests and denies that the Mozambique piece came from a 777. So the possible relevance of these new finds remains ambiguous.
The final page contains a list of eight subjects on which “the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370” (aka “the team”) will be working on in preparation for the final report. One of these items is “Wreckage and Impact Information (following the recovery and verification of a flaperon from the aircraft).” Again, no mention is made of the new pieces, and the emphasis on “impact information” suggests that the focus will be on what the deformation of the flaperon indicates about the nature of the crash, rather than what the marine life found on the flaperon tells us about how the flaperon floated and where it drifted. On the bright side, the inclusion of this item suggests that the French are sharing information about the flaperon with Malaysian authorities, and so the public will learn at least something about this important clue in the foreseeable future.
Another item is “Flight Crew Profile.” As it becomes increasingly likely that the plane did not fly south on autopilot alone, the possibility that the plane was flown on a suicide mission by one of its two pilots comes increasingly to the fore. The “Factual Information” report issued a year ago indicated that the captain’s psychological condition had been evaluated, and it was determined that he showed no signs of suicidality. It seems to me that the inclusion of this item suggests that investigators are looking at this topic more closely.
Other items include “Air Traffic Services Operations” and “Organisation and Management Information of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Malaysia and MAS.” These, hopefully, will examine some of the curious goings-on that occurred after MH370 disappeared, such as the fact that Malaysia Airlines told air traffic controllers who were looking for the plane that it was flying over Cambodia. Likewise, the item “Aircraft Cargo Consignment” should explain why the plane’s manifest showed that it was carrying a large quanitity of mangosteens, when this fruit was not in season at the time.
While these latter investigations may shed light on chronic irregularities at the airline and at the civil aviation department, I don’t think that they will tell us much about MH370’s disappearance. Others, no doubt, will disagree.
Finally, one of the biggest takeaways for me in the report is the notable absence of radar as a topic of discussion. There is a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding the primary radar trace that MH370 made after it turned around at IGARI and headed west toward the Andaman Sea. We hoped that some of these riddles would be cleared up in today’s report; instead, it seems likely that they will never be resolved.