The hunt for MH370 resumes

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The Malaysian government has announced that almost four years after Flight MH370 disappeared and a year after a huge search lasting over a thousand days was finally suspended, it has cut a deal with a US deep sea exploration company to resume the hunt.

The agreement with the American firm Ocean Infinity stipulates that a fee will only be paid if the wreckage of the Boeing 777-200 is discovered. The focus is to be on a new area of 25,000 square kilometers to the north of the previous search zone in the southern Indian Ocean.

The company will be paid $20 million if a find is made within the first 5,000 square kilometers rising to $70 million. All the searches have to be completed within 90 days. It is being reported that Ocean Infinity has already chartered a Norwegian vessel. This has a number of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles with technology which is said to allow them to search far more quickly than the underwater craft involved in the $133 million search coordinated by the Australians until the start of last year.

This new move will obviously once more raise the hopes of the family and friends of the 239 people board the Malaysian airliner. Though mostly from China, there were passengers from 15 different countries. In the days immediately after MH370 went missing, there was considerable anger, particularly among Chinese relatives whom the airline flew into Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian authorities, stunned by the disaster, were acting with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, badly handled announcements and an unusually rampant rumor mill stoked the despair and fury of distraught family members.

The puzzle was how and why the Boeing’s automated position reporting system was turned off. Malaysian investigators formed a strong suspicion that the plane’s 53-year-old captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had deliberately disabled it and taken the plane off its route to Beijing, turning back across the Malaysian peninsula and heading out across the Indian Ocean.

The agony of those who waited for news became the greater when it was clear that unless MH370 had landed somewhere, it would have run out of fuel. Hope was replaced by a nagging need for closure, for the wreckage to be found and for some answer to be provided as to why their loved ones had perished.

Anyone who seeks to argue that after nearly four years, the renewed search will reopen tragic wounds, very possibly with a further lack of results, is, however, misguided. It is not simply those who sustained terrible personal loss who have a vested interest in knowing what really happened. It matters to everyone who takes a flight anywhere.

The International Air Transport Association, which overseas the whole airline industry, is pressing for crash-protected cockpit image recorders and flight recorders and transponders that cannot be interfered with. It is the nature of all such disasters that lessons are learned and changes made designed to stop them happening again. In terms of knowing for certain where any aircraft is at any given moment, the technology is being mobilized. But this does not solve the still perplexing issue of what chain of events brought about the disappearance of flight MH370. The Malaysian government is absolutely right to have organized this new search for answers, for which as much as $70 million is surely a small price to pay.


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