The truth is Flight MH370 didnt disappear…
Watch video here
Next on Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna forensically charts what happened in the minutes and hours after the Boeing 777 aircraft stopped communicating with authorities on the ground. The program raises many crucial questions about what went wrong with the emergency response and reveals new information about the sequence of events that night.
Travelling to Malaysia, Meldrum-Hanna speaks to the family of the pilot and prime suspect, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, in their first television interview.
On the 8th March 2014 at 7:24am (Malaysia time), Malaysia Airlines released a statement revealing it had lost contact with a Boeing jet airliner, Flight MH370. But at the time this announcement was made, MH370 was actually still flying. The world didn’t know that MH370 had slipped through the watch of multiple authorities on the ground.
The question is: with so many people on board, how could this happen?
In a one-on-one interview, Four Corners asks Malaysia’s Defence Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, to explain who is responsible for the loss of MH370 and the challenges involved in this unprecedented tragedy. The interview is revealing.
If the Malaysian Government is unwilling to accept responsibility for what happened, the program speaks to others who want officials to be held accountable. Asked about the mistakes made during the search, one former Malaysian Defence Force officer is clear what the country’s current military leaders should do:
“I think they should leave the service for other people to serve the country.”
“Lost: MH370” Monday 19 May 2014
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: MH370: the great, modern aviation mystery. Welcome to Four Corners.
There are a number of chilling elements to the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight in the early hours of Saturday, March 8, but the eeriest is to think that, even as the plane, with 239 people on board was being reported as missing, feared crashed, it was still somewhere in the air, flying in the opposite direction to its scheduled destination.
That fact is at the heart of tonight’s remarkable reconstruction of the ghost plane’s final hours. That, while Malaysia Airlines officials and even the Malaysian Air Force were apparently ignoring repeated early warnings that something was badly amiss, those passengers and crew were still in the air, alive or dead, on a prolonged journey to oblivion.
What has followed is a litany of embarrassing failures by multiple authorities in Malaysia to take the action they should have taken.
Tonight, after the most extensive search in aviation history, reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna puts together the various pieces of a baffling mosaic and speaks exclusively to the family of the pilot accused of crashing his own plane.
ZAHARIE AHMAD SHAH, MH370 PILOT: MAS 370 we are ready requesting flight level three five zero to Beijing.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, KUALA LUMPUR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: MAS370 is cleared to Beijing.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA, REPORTER: It’s 12:26am at Kuala Lumpur International airport, Saturday March the 8th.
ZAHARIE AHMAD SHAH: Ground MAS370 Good morning, Charlie One. Requesting push and start.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: MAS370 Lumpur Ground, good morning. Push back and start approved.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: For air traffic control, it’s another hot and humid night.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Runway 32 Right Exit via Sierra 4.
COCKPIT COMPUTER: Approaching three two right.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: On the tarmac, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is nearing take off.
Piloting the plane is, 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah
More than 18,000 hours flying experience, an unblemished flying record, a 30 year veteran of the airline.
NIK HUZLAN, FORMER CHIEF PILOT: Zaharie was an invisible pilot. Now all pilots in the airline like to be invisible, meaning bosses don’t know about them, meaning they just go do their work well, pass all their exams.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Inside the cockpit, seated to Captain Zaharie’s right is 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid.
Radioing air traffic control, it’s his first stint co-piloting a Boeing 777 aircraft without a check co-pilot supervising.
FARIQ ABDUL HAMID, MH370 CO-PILOT: Line up 32 Right Alpha one zero – MAS370.
STEVE BUZDYGAN, RETIRED BOEING 777 PILOT: It sounds quite normal. Tends to be really radio communications can be quite relaxed. You know, there is a protocol but it can be quite relaxed, particularly when things are going normally.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Around two hours earlier, while the plane was being prepared for flight, 227 passengers from 14 nations – including Australia – began checking in at Kuala Lumpur airport.
Two thirds are Chinese nationals. All bound for Beijing.
At 12:41am, MH370 is ready to fly.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: 370, 32 Right Cleared for take-off.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Flying conditions are almost perfect: minimal wind and cloud forecast for the six hour flight.
The 4,500 kilometre flight path would normally take MH370 over Vietnam, crossing the coast of mainland China just west of Hong Kong, and then into Beijing.
An easy trip for the Boeing 777 plane, which had passed its maintenance check just 12 days earlier.
(to John Lindsay)
The 777 how would you describe its safety record?”
JOHN LINDSAY, RETIRED BOEING 777 PILOT: Safety record has been exemplary for ah for a modern jet airliner.
NIK HUZLAN: The 777, you know you you can’t get lost even if you tried. It, it is that good. It is a very, very good aeroplane.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Malaysian Three Seven Zero, climb flight level three five zero.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: At 1.19am MH370 is cruising at 35,000 feet, a Boeing 777’s optimal altitude.
As it approaches Vietnam’s airspace, exiting Malaysia’s, controllers direct the pilot to make the routine switch to Air Traffic Control in Ho Chi Minh City.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Malaysian Three Seven Zero, contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9 Good Night.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Seconds later, A male voice inside the cockpit responds.
COCKPIT VOICE: Good Night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This is the last time anyone will hear from MH370: a final goodbye from the doomed midnight flight.
Within minutes, without notifying anyone on the ground, MH370 veers radically off its regular flight path to Beijing.
JOHN LINDSAY: The only reason for deviating from an intended track is either for weather or for some you know under air traffic control requirement because of some- some problem, but…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Neither of those…
JOHN LINDSAY: Neither of those were a factor.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Five Hours later, at 6.30am, MH370 is due to land at Beijing international airport, but it’s nowhere to be found.
JOHN LINDSAY: I mean, it’s without precedent. How can how can a modern jet airliner just disappear?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: At 7:24am, Malaysia Airlines release a statement on Facebook:
“Malaysia Airlines confirms that flight MH370 has lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am, today.”
The world is unaware that MH370 is actually still flying.
NIK HUZLAN: Oh yes. Yes, yes it was just running out of fuel. It was just having six tonnes of fuel in tanks. Yes it was flying.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: As we turned on our televisions, that plane was still in the air.
NIK HUZLAN: Chilling. When I got the message on my phone, airplane was still airborne; it’s chilling.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Unaware of the fate of their loved ones, distressed relatives begin to arrive at Kuala Lumpur airport
(Footage of distressed relatives at Kuala Lumpur International Airport)
A nation starts praying for the plane’s safe return.
Over the following days, government officials struggle under pressure with little information to release.
DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL AVIATION SPOKESPERSON: We do not exactly – what happened to the aircraft, we just cannot…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Nearly 300 different news agencies descend on Kuala Lumpur, all desperate for answers.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, LEADER OF OPPOSITION, MALAYSIA: After a few days of flip flop and ah refusal to release ah critical information, people are becoming more cynical.
(Footage of media scrum)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The Government’s press conferences are quickly overrun by a furious media pack.
ANONYMOUS VOICE: Wait, wait, wait, stop, stop, stop, it’s gonna fall, it’s gonna fall, stop. Relax, relax.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Soon, the doors are closed on the media, fuelling claims of conspiracy and cover-up.
DISTRESSED MOTHER: Where is my son? Why are you not giving me any answers?
(to Nik Huzlan)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: You say it’s a conspiracy?
NIK HUZLAN: Conspiracy merely to protect the people who have not done the job they’re supposed to do.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And who hasn’t done their job?
NIK HUZLAN: I guess the people who are who are on duty that night.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: The Air Force, the Malaysian Airlines, the Kuala Lumpur airport authority. I mean there’s a good number of agencies involved.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So how did MH370 and everyone on board vanish without a trace when so many eyes were watching it that night?
(to Ian Thompson)
What sort of mystery is this?
IAN THOMPSON, FORMER AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: It’s huge. It’s huge. It just doesn’t, these sort of events just don’t happen.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The mystery of flight 370 begins just after 1:19am
COCKPIT VOICE: Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Around 90 seconds after the final goodnight.
NIK HUZLAN: These 90 seconds are very key. These 90 seconds actually defines the whole of MH370, MH370 going missing. That 90 seconds.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: At 1:21am, MH370’s transponder is turned off or fails.
Located on the centre console of the flight deck, the transponder is the plane’s main mode of identification by air traffic control using civilian secondary radar on the ground.
STEVE BUZDYGAN, RETIRED BOEING 777 PILOT: It’s actually a positive response to the ground, and it contains information like the aircraft height, speed, flight number, and its destination.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Four Corners has spoken to more than a dozen 777 pilots.
All of them agree, unless there’s a malfunction, the transponder should never be turned off during flight.
STEVE BUZDYGAN: There’s no reason I can think of, operational reason, that the aircraft would have that that transponder turned off. There’s no reason to do so.
(to John Lindsay)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Could that be done accidentally?
JOHN LINDSAY: No.
NIK HUZLAN: I do not know who switched off the, the transponder but certainly that, that diabolical act started with the switching off of that transponder.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Around the same time, Four Corners understands someone inside the cockpit began interfering with the in-flight entertainment system.
And a second key data messaging system also stops transmitting: the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, ACARS.
JOHN LINDSAY: It would give information about the various pressures and temperatures within the engine, oil levels, speeds of rotation.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: ACARS records and transmits the health of the plane during flight, and it’s designed to never be turned off in the air.
JOHN LINDSAY: If it’s something that somebody wished to do, as, as a positive step, then you’d have to research how it was going to be achieved.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So you’d need to know what you’re doing>
JOHN LINDSAY: Exactly
NIK HUZLAN: It just points out to one thing, human interference.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The question is: did someone in the cockpit deliberately turn the transponder and the ACARS off, or were both systems disabled by a fire or malfunction on board?
(to Steve Buzdygan)
Do you believe that this was human intervention or do you believe it’s possible that the communication systems were knocked out by say a fire?
STEVE BUZDYGAN: It could’ve been, quite easily.”
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So where would the fire have been in order to strike out those communications?
STEVE BUZDYGAN: The electronics bay, which is right beneath where the pilots sit.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If there was a fire or explosion on board, could the plane continue to fly?
JOHN LINDSAY: It’s very eh- it’s uh beyond the bounds of probability in- in my view.
NIK HUZLAN: There is no mechanical malfunction that enables an aircraft to fly but kills radio, and flying this is not just fly, this is fly for the next seven hours.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: With ACARS off, what does that actually mean then now that the transponder and ACARS is off?
STEVE BUZDYGAN: You’re slowly shutting off the methods of communication between the aircraft and the ground.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Only a few people on board MH370 had the skill and the knowledge to take over the plane and shutdown its communication systems.
Early on, one person in particular stood out: the captain.
NIK HUZLAN: Captain Zaharie has the best opportunity and certainly capability. Opportunity meaning that he has control over time and, and how events can unfold.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: He’s the most powerful . . .
NIK HUZLAN: Better than…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: … person on that…
NIK HUZLAN: …yeah most powerful person…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: …aircraft?
NIK HUZLAN: …on that particular aeroplane yes indeed.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: But could Captain Zaharie be a rogue pilot on a suicide mission taking 238 people with him?
These are the last known recorded images of Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah, seen here clearing security with co-pilot Fariq Hamid at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, moments before flying MH370.
So who is Captain Zaharie?
(Footage of Captain Zaharie’s home video)
ZAHARIE AHMED SHAH: Hi everyone. This is a YouTube video that I made as a ah community service…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: In this home video uploaded to Facebook in January 2013, Zaharie explains how to save on electricity.
ZAHARIE AHMED SHAH: This video is to be used to optimise your heat pump oil compressor…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Highly intelligent and technically savvy, Captain Zaharie was also obsessed with aviation.
Joining Malaysia Airlines as a cadet in 1981, according to the company’s former Chief Pilot Nik Huzlan, Zaharie had an impeccable record.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What was his reputation then as a pilot?
NIK HUZLAN: He was methodical, methodical. He’d keep very good notes and he was generous.
(Montage of newspaper headlines)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If tabloid media reports using unnamed sources are to be believed, Captain Zaharie was a man on the edge, weighed down by personal problems: a failing marriage, in no state to fly that night.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Captain Zaharie’s family has remained silent.
For the first time, tonight, they speak publicly, in Penang with Zaharie’s brother-in-law, Asuad Khan, agreeing to speak to Four Corners on behalf of his sister Faizah, Zaharie’s wife.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And how close were you two?
ASUAD KHAN, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF CAPTAIN ZAHARIE: As a friend yeah, and as a brother-in-law definitely.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: How often did Captain Zaharie return to Penang?
ASUAD KHAN: Every year…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Why have you decided to speak with us?”
ASUAD KHAN: Well, because what I can see that a lot of people are saying a lot of things about him which is untrue.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: It was reported that, in the 24 hours leading up to flight MH370, Captain Zaharie’s wife had left him, taking their children with her to another house.
According to Zaharie’s brother in law, the rumours are completely false.
ASUAD KHAN: I even I don’t believe it because she, she’s at home. Well the, the normal procedure for, for their ah what they call it, whenever the husband fly, the wife will go to another house where the young, young son, younger son’s staying. Otherwise, she will be alone at that big house.
That’s been practised since they buy, they bought the house.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: That was their routine.
ASUAD KHAN: Yeah their routine. You can say that.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: A difficult question I need to ask you…
ASUAD KHAN: Go ahead.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Again, personal life, all of these rumours need to be discussed.
ASUAD KHAN: Ok.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: It was reported that Captain Zaharie also had a girlfriend.
ASUAD KHAN: That I do not know about. Even if I know, I said, ‘Why not?’ We are allowed to, as long as you take good care of your wife.
Even if you ask my sister, she said she don’t care. He can marry another one. Why not we, can marry four. We are Muslim.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: A self-confessed aviation geek, Zaharie built a flight simulator in his home, spending hours practicing emergency landings, inviting friends over to have a go.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: In terms of Captain Zaharie’s time spent on the simulator was, was it a secret of his?”
PETER CHONG, FRIEND OF CAPTAIN ZAHARIE: The flight simulator is definitely not a secret of his. He was proud of it and since he installed it about a year ago he has been proudly showing it off in the Facebook. So there’s nothing sinister about it.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Many pilots have flight simulators at home. For Zaharie, it’s become the subject of intense media speculation – claims that he deleted simulator data before flying MH370.
But Asuad Khan says his sister Faizah, Zaharie’s wife, told him that the flight simulator broke in 2013.
ASUAD KHAN: That simulator was dismantled already, the things crash. It don’t work, so he, he got to ah reformat the drive.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: to be clear Captain Zaharie’s wife has told you that he was not on that simulator this year except to…
ASUAD KHAN: When…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: …try and reinstall.
ASUAD KHAN: Yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: He did not practise extreme landings and take, take offs…
ASUAD KHAN: This year. I don’t think so because the simulator is not working.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Captain Zaharie was also politically minded, a strong supporter – and distant relative – of Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim.
(Excerpt from archived news story)
JOURNALIST: Back in court again…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: In what many believe is a politically motivated trial, on Friday the 7th March, Ibrahim was sentenced to five years jail for the crime of sodomy.
It’s rumoured Zaharie was in court in Kuala Lumpur for the verdict – just hours before he piloted MH370, leading to claims he took the plane down in political protest: a distressed activist, a political fanatic.
But his brother in law, Asuad Khan, says Zaharie wasn’t at court
(to Asuad Khan)
Was Captain Zaharie at the trial of Anwar Ibrahim?”
ASUAD KHAN: No. I ask my sister personally, even, even my sister herself informed him on what happened on that day.
(to Peter Chong)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So the idea that Captain Zaharie was so distressed by the, the ruling in this court case that he took a plane on a suicide mission, that is ridiculous?
PETER CHONG: And making that decision in within like four/five hours? It’s absolutely ridiculous.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: A prime suspect with no apparent motive. To date, there’s no proof Zaharie is responsible, but we can prove how MH370 was allowed to disappear that morning.
Starting on the ground with air traffic control at 1:20am.
One minute, MH370 blips regularly on civilian radar screens – the next, transponder disabled, it’s gone.
IAN THOMPSON: When you can’t see the, the target, or the, the radar display of the aircraft and label disappear, you’d start to become quite concerned immediately.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: That didn’t happen.
At the exact moment the transponder and the ACARS stop working, MH370 is flying through a technically obscure grey zone, a vulnerable handover point between two airspace sectors: Malaysia and Vietnam.
STEVE BUZDYGAN: If I was going to take the aircraft over and wanted to make the aircraft disappear, uh that’s ex- th- this is exactly when I would do it.
(to Ian Thompson)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Did MH370 fly to outsmart air traffic control?
IAN THOMPSON: Yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: As MH370 reaches Vietnam airspace, it’s directed to switch over to Air Traffic Control in Ho Chi Minh City.
Standard procedure for any plane following a commercial flight path.
NIK HUZLAN: Any pilot worth his salt, any pilot anywhere in the world, when you hand it over you switch frequency. In the case of 777, you probably have that frequency already on the spare box.
KUALA LUMPUR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Malaysian Three Seven Zero, contact Ho Chi Minh One Two Zero decimal Nine. Good Night.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: In Vietnam, officers on duty wait for MH370 to check in – a grace period, reportedly, of up to five minutes.
NIK HUZLAN: I tell you it’s all done in one swoop. Malaysian 370 good night, over to Ho Chi Minh, click. Ho Chi Minh, Malaysian 370 good morning. That’s all it takes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: That didn’t…
NIK HUZLAN: …exactly that long.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: …happen.
NIK HUZLAN: That did not happen.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Ho Chi Minh Air Traffic Control waits, and waits for MH370 to respond.
(to John Lindsay)
How normal is it for the plane simply to not check in?
JOHN LINDSAY: Unheard of, unless there was a problem on board the aeroplane with the- eh communications.
IAN THOMSPON: If they aircraft, if there was a problem with them not calling, the aircraft not calling ah Vietnam, it should have they should a gone straight back to um Kuala Lumpur.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Instead, almost 20 minutes pass.
At 1:38am Ho Chi Minh finally calls air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur: they’ve failed to make contact with MH370.
(to Ian Thompson)
IAN THOMSPON: Yeah well it’s, it’s way too long. It’s way too long. You would think that would have happened in the first three or four minutes, yeah.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The delay is soon compounded by misinformation coming out of Malaysia Airlines Operations Centre.
At around 2:00am, the airline makes the first of three stunning communication errors.
According to this timeline of events released by the Malaysian Government, an airline employee told the nearby air traffic control centre that the aircraft was in Cambodian airspace.
And again at 2:15am: MH370 was flying in Cambodian airspace.
Twenty minutes later, at 2:35am, a third time. With Malaysia Airlines Operations even giving coordinates.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Is it not concerning that at 2am, the authorities know that 370 is in an airspace and an area that it shouldn’t be?
IAN THOMPSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s more surprising that the um control authorities cannot see the aircraft, but um Malaysian Airlines ah supposedly is reporting the position of that aircraft.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What’s even more surprising: Malaysia Airlines not only provided misleading coordinates, the airline provided them before even trying to call MH370.
According to information we’ve obtained, Malaysia Airline’s Operations Centre made its first attempt to call MH370 at 2:39am. That’s four minutes after providing those misleading coordinates at 2:35am.
Despite the gravity of the situation, the airline made just one attempt to call MH370 by satellite phone in those crucial hours before it was due to land.
Based on the Government’s timetable, air traffic control in both Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh continued to operate under Malaysia Airlines’ confusing data placing MH370 in Cambodian airspace
Until 3.30am: when a correction was made:
VOICEOVER: Malaysia Airlines Operations Centre informed Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre that the flight tracker information was based on flight projection and not reliable for aircraft positioning.’
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Unbelievably, another two hours would pass before Kuala Lumpur activated Air Search and Rescue.
(to Ian Thompson)
So they wait until 5:30?
IAN THOMPSON: That seems very long. There’d be other people that should have been informed and those people, I would have expected, to have started the ah a search and rescue co-ordination centre before that time.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: With maximum confusion, delay and inaction on the ground, in the sky, whoever’s in control of MH370 has bought invaluable time.
At around 1:30am, invisible in the air, the plane dramatically changes course, taking a wide left turn.
(to Steve Buzdygan)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Would passengers have felt anything?
STEVE BUZDYGAN: Not necessarily. It’s night-time, they’re tired, probably falling asleep.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: It’s not known who’s flying the plane.
As it glides across the Malaysian peninsular, transponder off, now an unauthorised unidentified object, MH370 isn’t visible on civilian secondary radar, but it can be seen by the military’s primary radar.
And it’s spotted, then dismissed, by military radar officers below.
SEAN O’CONNER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, US AIR FORCE: So if there’s not very many things flying around and they’ve all got transponder codes on and, all of a sudden, one guy show up on your screen who doesn’t have a transponder code, that should have been an indication that something, right off the bat, was amiss, that something needed to be, ah, you know, something was worthy of maybe making a phone call, investigating, seeing what was going on.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: But it appears nothing was done.
(Footage of MH370’s estimated route)
This is the route MH370 is believed to have taken. Based on its likely altitude and speed, it took MH370 around 15 minutes to fly across the peninsular
During that time, it was well within at least two of Malaysia’s military radar zones – the last, at Butterworth, Penang.
On that clear night, with very little air traffic and close to empty skies, MH370 flew almost directly over the top of Malaysia’s military radar station located on the island of Penang.
Four Corners understands that a team of up to five officers could or should have been on duty at the nearby radar operations centre at Butterworth airbase.
Their job? To man the military radar screens, looking for unidentified aircraft entering Malaysia’s airspace.
(to Anwar Ibrahim)
What should the military have done that night?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: The Air Force will be alerted and will have to then be flown to that area to either, you know, normally to guide the plane to land or to leave the Malaysian airspace.
They’re standard operating procedure and this was never done.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The military completely breached the standing operating procedures?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The former First Admiral of the Royal Malaysian Navy, now member of the People’s Justice Party, Imran Abdul Hamid, agrees.
(to Imran Abdul Hamid)
Is it inexcusable for the RMAF Chief to not have tracked down this plane and chased it in real time?
IMRAN ABDUL HAMID, FORMER FIRST ADMIRAL, ROYAL MALAYSIAN NAVY: Definitely, if it is, if they knew the aircraft is ah passing through our country, definitely they must react. They should be responsible for what they are doing.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: MH370 could have been blipping on military radar screens as an unidentified object for up to 40 minutes.
Until around 2.25am.
ANWAR IBRHAIM: Yeah, I mean it’s a major scandal here, because this is of course amounting to a major threat to national security.
IMRAN ABDUL HAMID: But I say it is their responsibility; they have to answer to the people of Malaysia for failing to react. So the, the Chief of Defence Forces has to answer for it, the Chief of Air Forces has to answer for it.
If they cannot answer it, I think they should leave the service for other people to serve the country.
ANWAR IBRHAIM: But clearly I think on the issue of the radar, there’s no defence. Both the Minister of Defence and Minister for Transport have just completely ignored this.
(Footage of Hishammudin Hussein entering a defence expo)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Forty-one days since MH370 disappeared, at a Defence Expo in Kuala Lumpur, we asked the Minister to confirm reports that the Department of Civil Aviation rang the military, reporting they’d lost MH370, asking military officers on duty to look for the plane early that morning.
(to Hishammudin Hussein)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Minister Hishammudin, ABC Television, Australia. Did civil aviation contact the military as has been reported in the early hours of the morning?
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN, MINISTER OF DEFENCE, MALAYSIA: Sorry?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Did civil aviation contact the military in the early hours the flight disappeared, as has been reported by Reuters?
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: When?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Contacted on the morning of the 8th would have been around 2am it’s reported.
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Oh, no, no I am not going back…
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Well the record hasn’t been corrected and the question still…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Well it will be corrected.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Well can you correct it today please?
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: No. Let it be corrected by all those involved.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: One week later, at the Ministry of Defence, Minister Hishammuddin agreed to an interview with Four Corners.
To answer questions about what the military did and didn’t do.
For the first time, confirming that civil aviation did ring the military that morning.
(to Hishammudin Hussein)
Did DCA contact the military…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Yes they did.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What time?
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: You have to ask the DCA and it will come out, the details, I think this, the dates, because I do not want to be trapped by, from my experience in the last few weeks, by dates, by numbers, by names, by rank.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Even though civil aviation had rung the military – possibly as early as 2am- alerting officers on duty to look out for a lost, unidentified commercial plane, the military allowed MH370 to glide out to sea.
Minister Hishammuddin told Four Corners that MH370 was tracked by the military in real time, but inexplicably, dismissed as not hostile by the officer on duty.
The military also decided not to send up one of its planes to investigate.
(to Hishammudin Hussein)
But why not send the jets up if you, you have conceded earlier that you knew very early in the morning the plane was missing, there was four and a half hours time in which to respond…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: It was not hostile; it was commercial; it was from our airspace; we’re not at war with anybody. Even if we sent them up, are you going to say that we’re going to shoot it down?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Well you said that, not me…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: No, I’m asking you.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: I could not possibly answer that…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point of sending it up?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: To see where it’s going.
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Well to see where it going, you need a fighter for that? If you’re talking about military procedures, and if I did shoot it down, you’d be the first to say, how can you shoot down a commercial airline with twent- 14 nationals, half of them Chinese, I’d be in a worse position probably.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Why shoot it down though if it’s not hostile?
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Well the Americans would.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If the military didn’t dismiss the plane as irrelevant, if the officers on duty took action, the Government would have avoided another costly mistake: spending a week searching the wrong area: the South China Sea.
(Footage from DCA press conference)
DCA SPOKESPERSON: The DCA with all the assisting agencies, have conducted a thorough rescue and search operations over a very wide area in the South China Sea.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: It would take a team of determined satellite engineers across the globe for the Malaysian Government to realise it was looking in the wrong place.
The breakthrough came on the other side of the world, here in London, where a small group of satellite engineers began to painstakingly analyse the only data available from MH370 after its communications systems had been disabled.
They didn’t have much to go on: a sequence of 14 numbers, signals sent between the plane and a satellite hovering around 35,000 kilometres in the sky above.
The data pointed to one crucial thing: the plane had continued to fly until 8.19am. It didn’t crash into the South China Sea as first thought.
RUY PINTO, CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER, INMARSAT: I mean this is basic ah physics that was used. Ah, what we did is used the data available in a different way. We combined the small bits of information in a different way.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: That information came from a ground station used by satellite technology company Inmarsat on the outskirts of Perth
The ground station had been logging data on MH370’s movements, a series of pings after the ACARS communications system on board stopped working.
RUY PINTO: And as I matter of procedure they immediately picked up the logs for that plane.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The logs showed that, although the ACARS had been disabled, MH370’s satellite communications terminal, or SATCOM, was still operating.
As it continued to fly, every hour, the SATCOM was trying to communicate with Inmarsat’s satellite, the F3, hovering in the sky above the Indian Ocean.
RUY PINTO: What happens is that our satellite comm, our SATCOM terminal, will at regular intervals, we will have a handshake exchange with the teleport.
You could call it, the technical term is a sort of ‘keep alive’, ah just checking that the timing is correct between the two and that the channels, we have a number of channels available, they are available for use if needed.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Over 48 hours, Inmarsat’s engineering team crunched the data, seven timing numbers and seven frequency numbers, in the hope of narrowing down the right search area.
(Footage of Ruy Pinto and Mark Dickinson in satellite room)
RUY PINTO: How are things going?
MARK DICKINSON, VP, SATELLITE OPERATIONS, INMARSAT: Ah, I think we are making good progress; you can see the seven arcs that we have after the loss of radar contact, and you can see them extending down into the Southern Indian Ocean.
It was a painstaking period of detailed analysis and checking and validation. We had to be sure that we understood the data we had.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Inmarsat’s data showed that MH370 made seven handshakes with Satellite 3, indicating that the plane continued to fly into the morning.
Longer than first thought and well away from the South China Sea.
The last, a partial handshake, at 8:19am.
(to Ruy Pinto)
Does that prove that MH370 was flying until 8.19am?
RUY PINTO: It proves, just it proves that the SATCOM terminal was working until 0019 or 8.19 as you put it; it was still moving ah between 0011 and 0019. You can deduce that.
(to Mark Dickinson)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And there was nothing further? No data further from 8.19?
MARK DICKINSON: From that point onwards, no. There was a attempt at a handshake at 0115, I believe, but that failed.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Seventy-two hours after MH370 was lost on Tuesday the 11th of March, Inmarsat privately handed the data over to its distributor, which in turn gave it to Malaysia – showing that MH370 had continued to fly either north or south for several hours after it lost contact with the ground.
Despite the data, two days later, on Thursday, Minister Hishammuddin publicly dismissed the possibility that MH370 continued to fly after it lost contact with the ground.
(Footage of Hishammuddin Hussein at a press conference)
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Before I take any questions, ladies and gentleman, I would like to clear up a few issues. Firstly being on the engine data. I would like to refer to news reports suggesting that the aircraft may have continued flying for some time after last contact. As Malaysia Airlines will confirm shortly, those reports are inaccurate.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: At best, a communication breakdown. At worst Inmarsat’s data may have been ignored for several days by Malaysia.
Remarkably, another two days would pass before the Government abandoned its search in the South China Sea.
(to Ruy Pinto)
It took Malaysia several days to take Inmarsat’s data onboard and shift the search area. Was that a reasonable delay?
RUY PINTO: It’s difficult to say, Carol. It’s really difficult to say. We have, throughout this process, learned that in events of this magnitude, everybody has an opinion.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The Minister told Four Corners Inmarsat’s data had to be verified before the Government could act.
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: And only when we had confirmation, corroboration, verification that the commercial flight that was detected by the military radar was the MH370, then we stopped our search in the South China Sea.
That was after searching on all sorts of leads that were given: fireballs in the sky, oil slicks, life rafts, lifeboats, even a Chinese satellite images in the South China Sea.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Absolutely, there was a lot to deal with at that stage so is it, is it a reasonable delay to, to need three days…
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: Was it three days?
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: …to consolidate that data.
HISHAMMUDIN HUSSEIN: I think, ah, I think that it’s, ah, wrong to, ah, just point out and throw out a period of three days.
(Footage of Najib Razak entering a press conference)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Two weeks after MH370 was lost, on the 24th of March, Malaysia’s Prime Minister publicly acknowledged Inmarsat’s additional data showing MH370 is likely to have ended in the southern Indian ocean.
NAJIB RAZAK, PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA: It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
(Footage of outraged relatives of passengers of MH370)
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: For the families of those on board, agony quickly turned to anger.
CHINESE MAN: We want they give us the truth, that’s what we want.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Eight weeks on, out in the southern Indian Ocean, where MH370 is believed to have ended around 2,000 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia, no wreckage has been found.
The battery on the black box has run out. There are no more signals to chase.
Despite the cost, the search goes on – led by Australia.
ANGUS HOUSTON, AIR CHIEF MARSHAL: We haven’t found anything. The search continues in the adjacent areas and hopefully we’ll find something, but, I would say that, over the next, um, eight to 12 months we will find the aircraft. Ah, we’ll find its final resting place.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: We now know multiple authorities watched MH370 disappear.
Despite the inaction and the repeated failures that night by those in charge, No one in Malaysia has taken responsibility for the loss of MH370.
NIK HUZLAN: Going missing is a strange thing. Crashing is pretty normal, you know, so when you crash it’s easy – the plane crashed. But, missing somebody must take responsibility. It is head of DCA or is it Malaysia Airlines itself?
KERRY O’BRIEN: If MH370’s disappearance was the deliberate act of a person or persons unknown, then right at this moment, it’s shaping as perfect crime.
And, the kind of fertile ground that will keep conspiracy theorists going for years. We did ask the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation and Malaysia Airlines for an interview. Both declined.
That’s the program for tonight, until the same time next week, good night.
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