The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has taken another confusing twist, after authorities backtracked on when a crucial communications system on the aircraft was switched off.
The airline’s group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news conference yesterday that it was unclear exactly when one of the plane’s automatic tracking systems had been disabled and the last words from the cockpit, believed to be from the co-pilot, could have been done before the communication system was switched off.
This contradicts an earlier statement by Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein that the communications system had been “disabled” at 1.07am on March 8 – before the verbal sign-off was given to air traffic controllers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, said a report in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Jauhari told yesterday’s press conference that the communications system, known as the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), had worked normally at 1.07am but then failed to send its next regularly scheduled update at 1.37am.
“We don’t know when the Acars system was switched off,” he said.
Jauhari said that the verbal signoff was given by radio from the aircraft at 1.19am which was between the two scheduled transmission times for the ACARS system.
A second communications system, a transponder that communicates with ground-based radar, then ceased working at 1.21am.
Following Jauhari’s statement, Hishammuddin had brushed off questions from the media about why he had said a day earlier that the ACARS had been disabled at 1.07am.
“What I said yesterday was based on fact, corroborated and verified,” he said, adding that the uncertainty about the chronology further underlined the need to locate aircraft and its data recorders.
The timing issue, however, is not the only confusing bit about the investigation so far.
While Putrajaya denied reports that Malaysia had refused help from international law agencies and was working with FBI and Interpol since day one in the search for the missing aircraft, Reuters reported that some US officials have expressed frustration at Malaysia’s handling of the investigation.
The report quoted two US security officials as saying that the Malaysian government still had not invited the FBI to send a team to Kuala Lumpur.
Reuters said the FBI, which has extensive experience in investigating airplane crashes, and other US law enforcement agencies have indicated they are eager to send teams to Kuala Lumpur, but will not do so unless formally invited.
“Malaysia has been working with international investigators and aviation authorities since day one,” Hishammudin said at yesterday’s press conference.
PKR vice-president N. Surendran said the contradiction by the Malaysian authorities, which was played up by foreign media such as CNN, was embarrassing.
“Whereas Najib had suggested that the ACARS had been turned off at 1.07am, MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari has said that the ACARS was not due to report for another 30 minutes.
“This is crucial in determining whether there had been deliberate action in turning off the ACARS, bearing in mind that the co-pilot said at 1.19am, ‘All right, goodnight’ and did not report any ACARS malfunction at that time,” he said.
Putrajaya had also been criticised by Chinese media for conflicting information on missing flight MH370.
For instance, an editorial by China Daily questioned why only after a week flight MH370 had vanished that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the flight’s disappearance may be have been “deliberate” and that the aeroplane flew several hours after leaving its intended flight path.
The newspaper also asked whether Malaysia was sharing all of the information it had gathered.
“The contradictory and piecemeal information Malaysia Airlines and its government have provided has made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious,” it said.
“What else is known that has not been shared with the world?”– March 18, 2014.