Hopes of a breakthrough in the search for the Malaysian Airlines jetliner that went missing with 239 people aboard on March 8 were dashed yet again this week. Another Australian underwater mission drew a blank and a US Navy official came forward to suggest that the signals they had been chasing had not come from the plane after all.
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Center, set up to hunt for MH370, announced on Thursday, May 29 that it had scoured 850 sq. km of ocean floor around the acoustic signals picked up in early April, and found no trace of the aircraft. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the search there can be considered complete, and in its professional judgment the area can henceforth be discounted as the plane’s final resting place.
As the Australian hunt wrapped up, Michael Dean, US Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering, claimed Wednesday that the underwater signals they had been following had not come from any wreckage but from the search boat itself or the detector of the acoustic pings which had first raised such hopes.
He said there was now a broad international consensus that those signals had originated in a man-made source unrelated to the vanished Boeing 777-200. Had the emissions come from the plane’s black box or voice recorders, those devices would have been found by now.
The US Navy spokesman referred questioners to the “Australians, as the lead in the search effort” who will make further information known “at the appropriate time.”
Australians accuse US of concealing MH370 data
Dean’s comment made the Australians hopping mad. They accused him of passing the buck to them when it was the Americans who were concealing information.
Thursday, May 29, Australian aviation and naval personnel, who had taken part in the massive search operation for the lost Malaysian airliner, leveled this accusation freely over radio and TV broadcasts.
They charged US experts with backing out of the search in early April after their original participation.
Let the Americans put what they really know about the MH370 on the table – was the message they conveyed.
The Australian aviation expert Neil Handsford said bluntly that no power other than the US has the equipment for looking more than 6 km down into the ocean. But since the Americans quit the operation, it is not available. Without this equipment and its instruments, he said, “We don’t know where to look and there is no chance of us ever finding the missing airliner.”
This frustration extended to the top levels of government. It may even have prompted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to call off the search in what sounded like a huff Wednesday, just hours before US President Barack Obama delivered a major speech laying out his administration’s foreign policy for the two-and-a half years remaining of his term in office.
Canberra, which has actively led the efforts to find the missing Malaysian airliner, was suggesting to Washington that it had better put its grandiose future plans on hold until that mystery was solved.
Malaysia believes jetliner downed over Diego Garcia
Malaysian ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad joined the implicit Australian charge that the US was keeping knowledge about the MH370’s disappearance under its hat.
On May 19, Mahathir said that the disappearance was “most likely not an ordinary crash after fuel was exhausted. The plane is somewhere, maybe without Malaysia Airlines markings. It is a waste of time and money to look for debris or an oil slick or to listen for pings from the black box."
His words reflected the belief now held by top officials in Kuala Lumpur’s military intelligence in the theories making the rounds on the Internet that the plane either landed, or was brought down, at a US military base on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. One theory maintains that the jetliner may have flown to this atoll, which is about 3,500 km from Malaysia.
The 88-year-old Mahathir, prime minister of Malaysia for 22 years, wrote on his personal blog that he could not imagine that “the pilots made a soft landing in rough seas and then quietly went down with the aircraft.”
He also claimed that Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, and “certain” US government agencies, know how to take control remotely of commercial planes such as the missing jetliner.
“For some reason, the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA,” he said.
Russians suggest Malaysian plane was hijacked to Kandahar
The Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets had its own theory to air, that the plane was hijacked by terrorists and flown to Afghanistan, where the passengers and crew are being held captive.
The paper quoted a Russian military source as saying “Flight MH370 Malaysia Airlines missing on March 8 with 239 passengers was hijacked.”
“[The] Pilots are not guilty; the plane was hijacked by unknown terrorists. We know the name of the terrorist who gave instructions to the pilots,” said the Russian source, adding: “The plane is in Afghanistan not far from Kandahar near the border with Pakistan!”
Another source claimed knowledge that the passengers were divided into seven groups and living in mud huts with almost no food.
None of these tales of mud huts and hijackings are worth more than conspiracy theories. But it must be remembered that the prime ministers of countries like China and Australia did report the discovery of debris from the plane and pings from its black box. They all proved to be talking through their hats.
This confusion around one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time begs the question: How have Beijing, Canberra and London – and their highly-advanced equipment and experts – come to be bogged down in this morass of suspicion and conspiracies?