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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Flight MH370: mystery cargo continues to raise questions

A Malaysia Airlines plane in Perth 

Delivery company refuses to reveal the contents or sender of a two-tonne shipment on board

LAST UPDATED AT 13:12 ON Fri 23 May 2014
Questions continue to circle around a mystery shipment that was on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 when it disappeared more than two months ago.
NNR Global Logistics, a Penang-based company that handled some of the cargo, has refused to reveal its contents.
The company admitted that 200kg of lithium-ion batteries formed part of the shipment. But a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Engineering and Technology (E&T) Magazine this formed only part of the consignment, which weighed a total 2,453kg.
He said that NNR Global has been told by its solicitors not to disclose details of the cargo because of the ongoing investigations into the missing aircraft.
E&T says that "what is even more surprising" is that the company that produced the batteries has also not been named.
Neither NNR Global Logistics nor Malaysia Airlines have been willing to identify the manufacturer, saying that it was "highly confidential".
When questioned, the airline said that the remaining weight was "radio accessories and charges" but this was not documented in the cargo manifest.
The manifest stated only that NNR shipped 133 pieces of one item, weighing a total of 1990kg, and 67 pieces of another item, weighing a total of 463kg.
There were also strict instructions on the manifest that the batteries should be handled with care and that there was a flammability hazard. However, several experts have ruled out the theory that the plane might have caught fire, as it would have struggled to fly on for several hours afterwards.
According to Malaysian newspaper The Star, NNR Global's base is less than 100m from Penang International Airport. "The complex is guarded by the police and only those with passes are allowed entry," said the newspaper.
The underwater hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has resumed and will complete a search in a targeted area of the Indian Ocean before handing over to private contractors within the next week.  

Flight MH370: book claims missing plane was shot down

20 May
A new book claims that the missing Malaysian Airways flight MH370 may have been shot down accidentally by US-Thai joint strike fighters in a military exercise that went wrong in the South China Sea. The book also claims that search and rescue efforts were deliberately sent in the wrong direction as part of a cover-up, the Daily Mail reports.
Flight MH370 – The Mystery, by British writer Nigel Cawthorne, bases its theory on the account of a New Zealand oil rig worker Mike McKay who says he saw a jet liner "burst into fire" on the evening the flight went missing.
McKay said that he saw something "burning at high altitude" over the oil rig on which he works, the Songa Mercur located off Vung Tau, on the south east coast of Vietnam.
Cawthorne suggests that such evidence indicates that there may have been a cover-up over the disappearance of the MH370.
In the book's introduction, Cawthorne says that relatives of the plane's passengers will "almost certainly" never know the fate of those who went missing.
The family of Rod Burrows, an Australian man who was aboard the flight, criticised the timing of the book's release, 71 days after the jet went missing.
Irene Burrows, his mother, told the Melbourne Herald Sun that the publication of the book was premature. "Nobody knows what happened so why would anyone want to put out a book at this stage?" she said. "There's absolutely no answers. It's devastating for the families. It's ten weeks tomorrow and there's nothing," she said.
In a blog post, Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, wrote that he believes the US Central Intelligence Agency must know something about the plane's fate.
"Airplanes don't just disappear," he wrote on his blog. "Certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras which operate almost indefinitely and possess huge storage capacities.
"For some reason, the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA."
In an effort to counter the increasing swirl of rumours, Malaysia said today that it would release data from the British satellite company Inmarsat which had been used to define the search area for the missing plane.
"In moving forward it is imperative for us to provide helpful information to the next of kin and general public, which will include the data communication logs as well as relevant explanation to enable the reader to understand the data provided," the Malaysian government said in a statement.
Relatives of those on board Flight MH370, who have been critical of Malaysia's response, have previously claimed that Inmarsat's data did not "support a definitive conclusion that no other flight path was possible," The Guardian reported.

Flight MH370: Inmarsat offers airlines free tracking service

12 May
THE British satellite operator Inmarsat, which narrowed the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane to the Indian Ocean, is offering a free global tracking service to all of the world's passenger airliners.
After flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March, Inmarsat was able to detect very brief electronic "pings" from its equipment on the plane, prompting investigators to search in the Indian Ocean.
The satellite operator is now offering to transmit GPS data from all passenger airliners to its satellites every 15 minutes, which will indicate each aircraft's heading, speed and altitude.
Inmarsat's senior vice-president Chris McLaughlin told the BBC: "Our equipment is on 90 per cent of the world's wide-body jets already. This is an immediate fix for the industry at no cost to the industry."
The cost to Inmarsat is expected to be around $3m a year, but the company hopes to recoup the expense as airlines take up some of its premium services. McLaughlin says it would nevertheless keep the basic tracking service free of charge.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has made a number of recommendations to prevent other planes from disappearing in the future. One proposal is to extend the battery life of a plane's black box to 90 days rather than 30 days. This would have given search teams in the hunt for MH370 more time to pinpoint transmissions on the Indian Ocean seabed.
The agency also wants to see the minimum recording duration of the cockpit voice recorder increased from around two hours to 20 hours.
Meanwhile, search teams continue to scour the Indian Ocean in the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines plane.
The Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield, which carries a sophisticated underwater robot, has rejoined the hunt after several days off, but officials believe a full search of the suspected crash area could still take up to a year.

Flight MH370: flight path suggests plane went 'rogue'

2 May
THE flight path of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane suggests that it tried to dodge military radar and avoid flying over land, according to a preliminary report from Malaysian authorities.
Nearly two months after the plane disappeared on 8 March, families of the missing passengers were yesterday told to return home from the hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur provided by the government.
Authorities also released an interim report, including a detailed map showing the flight's unusual route. The map suggests that the plane did not, as previously believed, follow a series of predetermined navigational waypoints, says the Daily Telegraph. Instead, it flew directly above the Strait of Malacca in a northwesterly direction and then turned again and travelled south for about seven hours before crashing in the Indian Ocean.
This route would have reduced the risk of detection by avoiding Indonesian territory, although it may have passed over the northern tip of Sumatra.
Aviation expert David Learmount told the Daily Telegraph: "It does look like the plane was trying to avoid Indonesian air space. It was an aircraft that has gone rogue. It didn't need to follow waypoints. There are no roads in the sky – pilots can go wherever they want."
Malaysia's government has come under fire for the way it has handled the incident, particularly for its contradictory statements. Authorities yesterday admitted that it took air traffic controllers 17 minutes to realise the flight had gone missing and four hours to activate a rescue operation. The interim report was dated 9 April but no explanation was given as to why it took three weeks to release the document.
The report also confirms that investigators still have no idea why the Boeing 777, which was supposed to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, flew off course.
Australian officials leading the hunt for the missing aircraft have said a full search of the suspected crash area could take up to a year.

Flight MH370: new search phase 'could take months'

28 April
THE search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has entered a "new phase", according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said that said that "a much larger" area of the ocean floor would now be investigated after the initial underwater search found nothing.
"It is highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface," Abbott said, according to the Daily Telegraph. "By this stage, 52 days into the search, most material would have become waterlogged and sunk."
A robotic submarine, the Bluefin-21, has been operating in a six-mile area of the Indian Ocean where acoustic signals believed to be from the plane's black box flight recorder were detected on 8 April.
Abbott said investigators still had "a considerable degree of confidence" that those signals were from a flight recorder.
Angus Houston, a retired air chief marshal who is leading the operation, told media that new sonar equipment which can search deeper than the Bluefin-21 would now be deployed.
"It will take time," he said. "I'd invite you all to just have a look at the French experience with their flight 447 – it took them two years to find the final resting place of that aircraft".
Meanwhile, the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak admitted that, contrary to previous reports, the missing plane had been tracked by military radar after it lost contact with civilian air traffic controllers and turned back from its original flight path, The Independent reports. The existence of the radar trail was established only "after the event", he said. 
Razak explained that the flight was monitored but not immediately investigated because "it was deemed not to be hostile".
"It behaved like a commercial airline, following a normal flight path," he said.

Flight MH370: search to 'start again' as sub finds no wreckage

22 April
AS THE Bluefin-21 remote-controlled submarine nears the end of its week-long mission scanning the ocean floor for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 without any signs of wreckage, members of the investigation team have admitted that they may have to "start again".
Sources from within the team have told the New Straits Times that they are considering the possibility that the plane may not have crashed into the sea after all, but could have landed somewhere else.
"We may have to regroup soon to look into this possibility if no positive results come back in the next few days," says the source. "But at the same time, the search mission in the Indian Ocean must go on.
"The thought of it landing somewhere else is not impossible, as we have not found a single (piece of) debris that could be linked to MH370. However, the possibility of a specific country hiding the plane when more than 20 nations are searching for it, seems absurd," the source adds.
The air search over the Indian Ocean also experienced a setback as planes were grounded due to the anticipated arrival of a tropical cyclone on Wednesday.
The Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre said in a statement that heavy seas and poor visibility made any air activities "ineffective and potentially hazardous".
Ships involved in the search were able continue their planned sweeps, the centre reported. But the week-long underwater scan of a stretch of the ocean floor 4.5km (2.8 miles) deep looks set to conclude tomorrow without any sign of any wreckage.
"The dawning prospect of the Bluefin-21, initially seen as the search's most promising aid, completing its mission without a trace of the missing aircraft has authorities under pressure to determine which strategy to take next," reports The Guardian.
Meanwhile, police in Kuala Lumpur are investigating the possibility of sabotage in a separate incident, after another Malaysia Airlines plane was forced to make an emergency landing yesterday, The Independent reports.
The captain of flight MH192, which was carrying 159 passengers and seven crew, was forced to turn back during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangalore in India, after detecting that one of the plane’s tyres had burst during take-off.
Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, called an immediate inquiry to "get to the bottom of this".

Flight MH370: China blamed and sub recalled as search drags on

15 April
A MISSION to search the ocean floor for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 using a robotic submarine was cut short this morning after the craft exceeded its maximum operating depth and was forced to return to the surface.
The sub had been sent to investigate signals detected last week which are believed to have come from the aircraft's black box.
The Bluefin-21, an unmanned submersible drone, exceeded its safe operating depth of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet), which triggered a safety feature that returned it to the surface, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Nothing of interest was found during its six-hour mission, operators say, but the drone will continue its work as soon as weather conditions permit.
Australian officials coordinating the search say they are confident that they are operating in the correct area, despite confusion about the location of the aircraft.
The Chinese government has been accused of hampering the investigation with claims, since proven false, that they had detected signals from the black box outside the search zone. On 5 April, the Haixun 01, a Chinese government search vessel, operating in a different part of the Indian Ocean to other search boats, claimed to have twice detected signals from the plane's black box.
"Everybody wants to find the plane," says a senior US Defense Department official who spoke to the New York Times. "But false leads slow down the investigation."
In spite of the false leads, other commentators have hailed China's commitment to the search. "The scope, scale and expense of Chinese operations exceeds anything that China has undertaken to date," Jonathan Pollack, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution tells the paper. "The Chinese are at least as intent on achieving definitive results as anyone else."

Flight MH370: search for missing plane goes underwater

14 April 
AFTER six days without a single 'ping' from the floor of the Indian Ocean, investigators looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are taking the search for the plane's black boxes underwater.
The Bluefin-21, a robotic submarine, is likely to be deployed today. Its sonar technology creates pictures from the reflections of sound underwater, rather than light.
A series of 'pings', thought to come from the plane's black box flight recorders, detected last week helped investigators narrow the search area, but they still face a "slow and painstaking process" with each Bluefin-21 mission lasting 24 hours, reports CNN.
It takes the submarine two hours to get down to the bottom of the ocean. Then it will scour the ocean bed for 16 hours, and take another two hours to resurface. It takes a further four hours to download and analyse the data collected.
Meanwhile, an oil slick detected yesterday evening by the Australian vessel Ocean Shield has been sent for analysis to see where it came from.
The new underwater search comes amid claims that the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid tried to make a call from his mobile phone just before the aircraft vanished from radar screens.
The New Straits Times, a newspaper regarded as a mouthpiece for the Malaysian government, claimed that the aircraft, with 239 people on board, was flying at an altitude low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up his phone's signal. The call ended abruptly, possibly "because the aircraft was fast moving away from the [telecommunications] tower", said one insider.
However, another source told the newspaper that while Hamid's "line was reattached", there was no certainty that a call was made. His phone might have simply been switched on.
Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein denied the claims but told the Daily Telegraph it is possible that the police or other international agencies know differently.
"When the time comes, that would be revealed," he said.

Flight MH370: new pings mean plane could be found 'in days'

9 April
TWO new signals consistent with those from aircraft black boxes have been detected in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Australian vessel Ocean Shield had struggled to locate any few transmissions on Monday after initially detecting two signals at the weekend. But yesterday afternoon the vessel's towed 'pinger locator' picked up one signal for more than five minutes and another again last night for about seven minutes, reports The Australian.
The signals will help narrow down the underwater search area, with Australian authorities hoping to find the missing aircraft "in a matter of days".
Search co-ordinator Angus Houston said: "I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not too distant future."
Visual identification is needed to confirm the crash site of the plane, which disappeared on 8 March on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.
"I believe we are searching in the right area," said Houston. "Hopefully in a matter of days, we will be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this is the last resting place of MH370."
The batteries in the black boxes, which normally last for around 30 days, were thought to have died, but Houston suggested the latest transmissions are "probably weaker than they would be earlier on".
Searchers are trying to detect more 'pings' from below the waves before an unmanned vehicle is launched to comb the seabed. Houston has said a submersible sonar device will not be launched until it is clear the batteries had expired. He added: "I don't think that time is very far away."
Up to 11 military aircraft, four civil aircraft and 14 ships were today taking part in the search of an area 1,400m north-west of Perth.
The hunt for the plane is estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and is now the most expensive search in aviation history.

Flight MH370: officials fear black box batteries have died

8 April
AUSTRALIAN authorities fear that batteries powering the black boxes of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have died
Signals that could have come from the plane's flight recorders were detected over the weekend in the Indian Ocean, 1,600km north-west of Perth, Australia, in an area most likely to be where flight MH370 crashed exactly a month ago on 8 March.
Hailed as "the most promising lead" in the hunt so far, officials said they were fairly confident the signals came from MH370's black boxes.
But attempts to detect the signals again in the last 24 hours have failed, reports The Times.
Authorities had hoped to send in an unmanned vehicle, similar to a submarine, with sonar and cameras to identify the black box flight recorders and any wreckage under the water.
However, they have said today that it is possible that the batteries, which normally last around 30 days, have died and therefore stopped transmitting signals.
Flight MH370 vanished on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with satellite data suggesting it deviated off its flight path and turned south over the Indian Ocean.
The Australian vessel, Ocean Shield, which is towing a US Navy 'pinger locator', continues to search for the signals today, with the help of navy divers.
But if no more signals are detected, an underwater vehicle called Bluefin-21 will embark on the much longer process of mapping the seabed using sonar in the hunt for wreckage. The craft will create images of the ocean floor, but the recorded data can only be downloaded and analysed once it emerges from the sea and taken on board a ship.
"Nothing happens fast when you are working at depths of 4,500m. It will be a long and painstaking process, particularly when you start searching the ocean floor with the sideways sonar on the underwater vehicle," said Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the search.
Another concern is that Bluefin-21 only has a maximum operating depth of 4,500m and authorities are uncertain of the exact ocean depth in the zone in which the signals were picked up on Sunday.
"It can't go deeper than that, so this is all incredibly finely balanced," he said.

Flight MH370: have black box signals been detected?

7 April
THE search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has had its "most promising lead" so far after an Australian vessel detected signals consistent with those from plane's black boxes.
Australia's Ocean Shield first picked up one signal in the Indian Ocean that lasted for two hours and 20 minutes before it lost contact. After turning around, the ship picked up two signals for around 13 minutes. These two signals were consistent with transmissions from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, reports The Guardian.
The signals, which were heard at a depth of 4,500 metres, were described by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the search, as "most promising lead" yet.
However, he added that investigators "have not found the aircraft yet and we need further confirmation".
He cautioned that these next steps would take time. "It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370," he said. "In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast."
The signals were detected around 555km to the north-east of where a Chinese search vessel, Haixun 01, briefly heard signals over the weekend in a different search area. Those signals are also being investigated.
Time is running out before the black boxes stop transmitting altogether. It might be only a few hours or a few days before their batteries run out.
The plane, carrying 239 people, was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March when it disappeared. Malaysian officials say they believe it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search teams are yet to find a single piece of wreckage from the missing plane, but officials have used satellite data to conclude that the aircraft ended its flight in the sea, hundreds of kilometres to the west of Perth, Australia.

More about Flight MH370:

Three ‘pings’ offer hope for recovery of MH370 black boxFlight MH370: former leader accuses Malaysia of cover-upFlight MH370: more debris spotted as Indian Ocean search steps upFlight MH370: Malaysia flight transcript revealed Families of missing passengers in ‘sombre disbelief’ as ships head to objects in southern Indian OceanFlight MH370: missing plane spotted thousands of miles apart Flight MH370: new flight data raises 'pilot hijack' fearsFlight MH370: 'plane may have landed in Taliban territory' 'Deliberate action' diverted Malaysian airliner   

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source: http://www.theweek.co.uk/world-news/flight-mh370/57641/flight-mh370-mystery-cargo-continues-to-raise-questions#ixzz32u6YxQ5w