MH370: Seven Years On, All Quiet on the Search Front

Have you felt sometimes that all that had to be said has already been said – perhaps several times? And yet, the questions never cease. Because the answers never came.

It is now seven years since we first heard that flight MH370 has vanished. Into deep waters, they said a few days later. Not ‘thin air’.

Since then, we have figured that there is water on the moon. We have reviewed the status of Pluto as a planet. We have a roving presence on Mars. We have peered further into deep dark space and heard sounds from the farthest distances. We are readying for commercial space travel.

It is therefore a shame that we still don’t know where an aircraft, on a routine commercial civilian flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, last seen on the night of 7–8 March 2014, ended its journey with 239 people on board in a world that is surveilled extensively.

It has been said several times that Malaysia continues to bear the burden of responsibility to look for the evidence necessary, to find the plane and passengers, and explain how something so bizarre could ever have been allowed to happen.

It has been said several times that for Malaysia (along with China and Australia) to seek credible new evidence that helps pinpoint the location of the aircraft in order to resume the search is a way to effectively pull the plug on the search effort. Seek from whom? It was at best a clever ploy to shift responsibility to faceless individuals and unnamed institutions and governments.

It has been said several times that it is time for Malaysia to turn over military radar data to independent experts to validate current interpretations and further extract all possible insights regarding the ‘turn back’ of MH370 and its subsequent flight path and characteristics. Not everyone believes this version of events and it is important to remember that the military radar data along with limited Inmarsat data are at the heart of the ‘Southern Indian Ocean consensus’. 

It has been said several times that there must be plans and protocols beyond standard diplomatic ones to focus on the east African shores and the islands in that region for debris search, verification, custody-taking and hand-over to Malaysia for analysis / investigation. There are debris pieces still in Madagascar after close to two years and now more recently, the debris find in South Africa from around Aug–Sept last year (2020) remains there, waiting to be shipped.

It has been said several times that in the absence of a sustained effort to locate the plane and have a fuller understanding of what transpired on 8 March 2014, there remains a lurking (looming?) threat to safety and security that we don’t yet understand and so cannot deal with effectively.

It has been said several times that, therefore, it is in the larger public interest for governments, institutions, airlines, regulators, aircraft (and sub-systems) manufacturers, unions and pilot associations, cabin crew, maintenance, ground staff, security, etc. to stay engaged with the search for answers to the disappearance of MH370. They put themselves at risk by tacitly accepting that nothing further needs to be done or by believing that they have no stake in the search / that they are powerless to influence the course of the search and investigation.

It has been said several times how it was important to treat families with respect, dignity and as an interested party rather than as an irritant, a nuisance, an afterthought. Yet, lessons remain to be learnt.

You get the idea. Everything has already been said.

In the initial months after the plane went out of sight in 2014, it was repeatedly emphasised that we were dealing with an unprecedented event. Invoking this fact was sufficient to seek a more charitable or indulgent acceptance of the incompetent response, poor communication, chaos, delays, and flip-flops. One was expected to be sympathetic to an overwhelmed civil aviation apparatus of the country that was leading the investigation.

It may be worth asking what was extra-ordinary in the response to what was billed as ‘unprecedented’. How much did all the actors try and play by the book (worse, complying with the letter rather than spirit) rather than go beyond it? How often did the country leading the investigation take cover under international conventions, national interests, security and sovereignty to stymie the search for the truth? To what extent did the principle of not apportioning blame (so that people in the know could be candid in their submissions) take away from holding individuals and organisations accountable? In an international incident such as MH370’s disappearance where every country stands to gain from knowing what happened and how to avoid its recurrence, isn’t the widespread apathy, negligible contribution and wilful silence of most governments unprecedented, even shameful?

While I welcome Malaysia’s willingness to examine proposals for search on a ‘no find, no fee’ basis, a country that bears the responsibility for the loss of the plane and to find it, deigns to be ‘receptive’ to the families’ entreaties for the search to resume and be ‘open’ to reviewing commercial proposals from private entities in line with its intent to put in ‘reasonable’ efforts towards search. Am I the only one who finds it somewhat strange and patronising? How have we come to this?

So, what is different this year? I believe it is a palpable collective resolve to not let the unfinished business of the search and investigation for MH370 hijack our sense of repair, restoration and wellbeing as we rebuild our lives, forge new relationships, become forward-looking, cherish loved ones and celebrate memories. We may not all agree on what we believe happened and who the villains were – man and/or machine – but the MH families are together as one in seeking the truth and their shared history of trauma and tears.

It is cricket season in India, and I can’t help borrowing from the game – we have taken some serious blows. But we are back at the crease taking fresh guard and looking forward to hearing the sweet sound of timber striking the ball as we start off a new day, a fresh innings.

6 thoughts on “MH370: Seven Years On, All Quiet on the Search Front

  1. “It has been said”…that echo is resounding, but – as the cliche goes – there are none as deaf as those who don’t want to hear. May sane voices like yours reach those unwilling ears and penetrate within!

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  2. Very well written Naren! – it truly hits home on where this is at 7 years on – as we remember the 239 missing who boarded MH370 and never made it home. Thoughts are with you and the MH Families still deservedly owed answers and closure. I hope the ‘All Quiet on the Search Front’ is just the calm before the storm…… MH370 must be found as there will no doubt be many lessons to be learned from its discovery – nothing should be assumed nor taken for granted in this unprecedented aviation mystery.

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  3. Whenever a part of a boeing 777 washes up ashore somewhere, they say it is from A boeing 777, as if there are other lost 777’s out there that no one is aware of. Sad, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is true. But, I guess families and the public want certainty, and unless there are clear identifiers, we will have to live with a more generic description.

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  4. ‘it has been said many times’ and it bears repetition many more zillion times. tragedies like these live in the many lives (and memories) of the living, till the last one who remembers the dead, die themselves. for loved ones, the closure is crucial. Thanks for writing this Naren.

    Liked by 1 person

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