Prior to March 8, 2014, global air travel had been through one of its safest periods without any major fatal incident since tragedy of Air France 447 that crashed off the coast of Brazil in June 2009 and claimed over 200 lives.
Fast forward to July 2014, and the fortunes have become reversed: two salient commercial aviation disasters, with one jetliner missing and another one shot down without survivors, occuring a mere 130 days apart.
To add an unprecedented twist to the completely isolated events, both cases involved the same airline and same aircraft. Even decades ago, when airline terrorism was far more rampant, such a coincidence was unheard of. It is even more sinister that, prior to March 8, Malaysia Airlines had an impeccable safety record until MH 370 disappeared from radar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and has yet to be found, presumably sunk in the depths of the South Indian Ocean.
In the aftermath since media outlets began reporting that MH 17, a Malaysia Airlines 777-200 ER en-route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine on July 17, attention has centered around the likelihood that the aircraft was shot down by terrorists operating a Buk surface-to-air missle system. Although the most immediate answers, at least for now, will be derived from investigating the surrounding areas of the crash site, and glancing back and forth as Russia and Ukraine point fingers at the other, public reaction to the event is universal:
“Malaysia Airlines, again? It just cannot be.”
When the public sees a picture of the Malaysia Airlines 777 involved in the most recent incident on media sites, they recognize immediately that it is a carbon copy of the same plane that vanished from thin air on March 8. It’s almost just too bizarre to conceive, especially since the still unsolved MH 370 tragedy remains fresh in everyone’s mind.
The initial public response to MH 370 the first time around was fairly muted when it came to allocating blame for error, and largely because with all of the advances in technology and communication, combined with the safety of air travel and commercial vessels, the world had faith that someone would get to the bottom of the story, be it the Malaysia Government, the People’s Republic of China, the US FAA, IATA, Boeing, Australia or Malaysia Airlines itself.
Although it took over two years for the BEA, the French equivalent to the FAA, to solve the mystery of Air France 447 and conclude it was due to pilot error, debris, wreckage and bodies from the plane were recovered within days of the actual incident.
Conversely, MH 370 has been missing for over 4 months without a trace. It has also presumably “veered” off into a remote corner of the Earth nowhere near its originally intended flight path.
For weeks and months after the fact, Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysia Government have executed a fairly unconvincing search, rescue and relief operation to figure out where and how someone could stash a 777 carrying 239 people.
While terrorism has been ruled out as a likely explanation for foul play, it doesn’t exempt MAS nor the Malaysia Government from committing several blunders that might have created an entirely different outcome. The Government knew about the military radar trace and its diversion off its intended flight path well into the early stages of its initial disappearance. While the aircraft may have ventured into unfamiliar territory at a much later stage, the fact remains that it veered off course in an otherwise heavily populated airspace, at the intersection of multiple countries that track thousands of flights each day traversing above 30,000 feet.
How the Malaysian military authorities just simply let this go undetected for several hours before reporting that MH 370 was officially “missing” has led to some pretty humiliating national security questions for both Malaysian Airlines and its home regulatory agencies.
Even after the plane was designated as “missing,” the “search area” was also chaotically dispersed all over Eastern hemisphere, stretching between the South China Sea all the way to Kazakhstan, then down towards the Maldives and eventually 1,500 miles off the coast of Western Australia, an extremely remote and challenging area for an investigation.
The end result has been the most expensive air disaster search and recovery efforts in the history of human existence, and in spite of the highly advanced tools and technology that exist, the oversight on behalf of MAS and the Malaysia Government has produced nothing of substance to bring closure to those affected by the tragedy, nor restore confidence in the brand airline’s reputation.
It is, without a doubt, a reality that airlines and civil aviation governing authorities in most developed countries are aware of, but have avoided admitting openly.
When credible news sources such as CNN are deigned to titling news updates pertaining to the mystery of MH 370 with, “the plane likely ran out of fuel,” then you know that you’ve failed in providing the world the answers it needs by using toothpick to search for a needle in a haystack.
What is even worse now is that MAS and the Malaysia Government have another crisis on their hands to sort through to cut into an already exhausting, frustrating and largely fruitless effort to resolve the loss of MH 370.
But time is not on MAS’ side, and it is no longer practical, nor responsible to act in a saving-face manner like it did after MH 370. And, now it has an entirely separate set of forces and data points to sort through in order to deliver quick and remidiatory responses in the wake of MH 17.
To aid in the recovery efforts, and in contrast to MH 370, the plane involved in MH 17 lost contact during the middle of the day in a high-volume airspace over land. Debris, smoke, bodies and wreckage was found shortly thereafter without needing to deal with a treacherous ocean. Further, as is common when terrorism is involved with an airline disaster, a group has already been identified as responsible for firing a missle at the plane.
But at the end of the day, MAS and Malaysia cannot afford to rest on its laurels and sit back pinning this largely on a Russia vs. Ukraine casualty. There are going to be critical answers that must be addressed immediately. Moreover, because this tragedy originated in the European Union, let it become known that the EU Civil Aviation regulatory bodies will be at the front and center of the investigation, and they are a seasoned group when it comes to intelligence, safety and oversight.
Transparency and accountability is beyond critical at this juncture. MAS and the Malaysian Government need to get to the bottom of this immediately, and reveal everything and anything that they know, be it politically sinister or otherwise. Else, we might be embarking upon a real global aviation crisis knowing that any given country and its state-owned flag carrier may be scraping by with archaic and unlawful aviation practices that deem it unsafe to fly, contrary to what we once believed.