The Plane is not the Only Thing Missing

ID-100159480“I told them mummy’s going to take a bit longer to come home this time,” Lee Khim Fatt, a father of two young children, told reporters. “I even promised them I’m going to bring her home,” he added. “ I don’t know where she really is right now, and I am not sure whether I could bring her back.”

Lee’s wife is one of the flight attendants aboard the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Bound for Beijing, the flight lost communication and vanished halfway through the journey in the early hours of March 8. The mysterious disappearance prompted a multinational investigative effort to find out what really happened to the flight, which carried 239 passengers and crewmembers. This search went on for days, and then weeks. As investigators uncover more and more facts about the flight’s history, Malaysian Airlines System and the Malaysian government were put into hot waters in the way they handled the findings – evidences suggest that the company and the government have not done their best to assit the investigators and the relatives of those aboard.

Malaysian Airlines System (MAS) was founded in 1947 as Malayan Airways, but due to financial and administrative issues, operations did not start until 1972.

The Malaysian government opened opportunities for private investors in addition to frequent increases in flight rates in order for the airline to be financially stable. Since then, the airlines have not faced a huge controversy such as flight MH370. When the plane did not reach its destination, the Malaysian government was quick enough to send out their reinforcements and to take responsibility for the whole disappearance. This quick response resulted in days of mystery and confusion. The longer it took for authorities to locate the plane, the greater the pressure became as the anxious public demanded clearer answers and more logical explanations.

The inconsistency of MAS’ operation could be reason why the technical issues regarding the plane flustered investigators in determining the flight’s exact fate. Based on the details gleaned since the plane’s disappearance, detecting its location was a shot in the dark. Plane crash theories were not supported after multinational efforts of locating debris in the approximated areas. Thirteen countries around the vicinity and even beyond, such as China and France, offered assistance. While the Malaysian government sent out the most reinforcements to aid the investigation, their efforts were not as efficient compared to others. It was China who saw initial signs of debris in the ocean, and it was through the radar expertise of US Military that approximated the possible locations of the crash site and narrowed the proximity of investigation. Later on, it would be Australia that would specify an area, and Vietnam that would certify the last point of contact with the plane. Unfortunately, there were still insufficient evidences that proved that the plane did crash, and tension intensified.

Malaysian navy, with the assistance of Interpol, shifted their focus onto the crew and passengers aboard, and a new theory emerged – terrorism and piracy. While it gave hope for the relatives of those aboard, their grief was still mixed with confusion and anxiety. A week into the probing led investigators to the two Iranian nationals who used stolen European passports aboard the plane. While it later turned out that they were asylum seekers, their easy pass through the airport security raised speculations of terrorism. Authorities also paid particular attention to the pilots of the flight. After finding out that the plane’s transponder was deliberately turned off by “someone with professional experience” and tracing the flight via radar over through Cambodia, the possibility of piracy seemed very plausible. The recovered transcript of exchanges suggested that the head pilot, Captain Zaharie Shah Ahmed, took over and pressured his co-pilot to redirect the flight elsewhere. However, all these speculations became false theories when the Malaysian government announced on March 25 their conclusion that Flight 370 had crashed somewhere into the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors.

This heartbreaking news greatly aggravated the relatives of those aboard, but their grief was combined with frustration and anger towards the government. While still figuring out how to break the hard news to his children, Lee Kim Fatt was certain to commit to legal actions in order to get access to records and better communications with MAS and the Malaysian government. Though reports and the progress of the investigations are publicly available in MAS’s website, Lee claimed, “The airline management only call us or have briefing with us, you know, and then they tell us the same thing again as what the press conference told.” The lack of professionalism and inefficient communication of both the MAS and the Malaysian government added anxiety to the bewildered relatives.

Paul Yin, a volunteer psychologist who provided counseling services to the Chinese families, revealed in an interview the psychological and emotional impact of this tragedy. “Many of the family members start to lean towards one way or another,” Yin explained. “Others are just holding onto any kind of rumors, or conspiracy theory that may convince them that they maybe alive.” He also claimed that desperation for information “has led some family members to be hospitalized and others to have suicidal plans.” Yin blamed the inconsistent communication regarding the details of the investigation to be an impeding factor in the healing of the grieving families. Nan Jinyan, whose sister-in-law was among the passengers, told the Associated Press that she was “deeply unhappy with what she called the vague and often contradictory information” coming from MAS. She said, “If they can’t offer something firm, they ought to just shut up.”

The Chinese government was also facing its own grieving Chinese families and accused the Malaysian government of being responsible for such distraught. The Chinese government recounted the wrong moves of MAS and the Malaysian government. The relatives had many questions and concerns they wanted to discuss with the airline, but accessibility was not easy, considering language barriers and geographic distance. Also, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s conference regarding the incident only happened a week after the plane’s disappearance. Furthermore, this conference was delayed for almost an hour. MAS Commerical Director Robert Dunleavy said that he was “not permitted to respond to any questions.” These actions and response left the relatives furious, accusing the airlines and the government to be withholding information. Nan Jinyan was present in the conference, and believed that “they are still deciding which information to release and which isn’t convenient to release right now.” This conflict between China and Malaysia only stirs the problem, and distracts Malaysia’s effort to focus on locating the plane.

Despite the international scrutiny of the public and foreign governments, Malaysia stayed composed and reserved through the controversy. MAS consistently and courteously asked the public on their website for immense understanding and patience during these pernicious and tricky investigations. While they recognized that they might have done something wrong in the course of the investigation, they are appealing for a fair judgment on what had happened based on the extent of their control. While the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has questioned the security and safety procedures of MAS, they extended their understanding with the airline and the government. “Accidents are rare,” said IATA director general Tony Tyler. “But the current search for the 370 is a reminder that we cannot be complacent on safety.” In line with security issues and concerns about terrorism, Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst, contended that, “To blame the Malaysian authorities for this is probably unfair – they have to get it right all the time and potential hijackers just have to get through once.” However, composure and reservation are expected when it comes to problems. Combining these with ineffective communication only emphasizes the lacking sense of consistent professionalism from both MAS and Malaysia.

At a standpoint, it is impressive how MAS and the Malaysian government are handling the issues thrown at them. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the same level of responsibility and professionalism is expected from the actions both MAS and the Malaysian government have done throughout the search for the missing flight. As it turns out, the airline system failed to maintain strict security and lacked cooperation with the Interpol. The investigation would not have been misguided to inconclusive findings. Moreover, they have failed to be professionally responsible when it came to effectively communicating with the relatives. These shortcomings greatly impacted the investigation, which resulted to inconclusive reporting and inefficient communications that dissatisfied many people. Have these issues of faulty security and poor communication did not come up, it would have been slightly easier for everybody. As of now, the plane is missing, and as far as the relatives of those aboard are concerned, the consistency and accuracy they were asking for from MAS and the Malaysian government appear to be missing as well.



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