A year on, where on earth is MH370?

Written By komlim puldel on Sabtu, 28 Februari 2015 | 20.01

The disappearance of MH370 is still a mystery which has sparked may theories, one of them a possible hijacking.

Emotional ... College students light candles to pray for the passengers onboard MH370. Source: AFP

AT 85, Irene Burrows is hoping she lives long enough to find out what happened to MH370.

The mother and mother-in-law of Australian passengers Rodney and Mary Burrows, Irene has long accepted she will never see her son and his wife again.

But she has not given up hope the Malaysia Airlines' Boeing 777 will be found and an explanation provided for its mysterious disappearance on March 8 last year.

"I was hoping before Christmas (it would be found) and then before Rodney's 60th," says Irene from her central Queensland home at Biloela.

"You're always hoping you'll hear something.

"For the first week, we thought they'd find it.

"Now I hope that it happens in our lifetime. My husband (George) is 87, and I'm 85.

"That's probably the only thing that keeps us going. I'd love to know before I go."

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Still missing ... MH370 passengers Mary and Rodney Burrows of Brisbane. Picture: Supplied. Source: Supplied

Incredibly in an age of sophisticated technology, where satellite dishes can reportedly spot a cricket ball in a desert, there are more questions than answers about MH370's fate.

Hard facts about the aircraft's disappearance are so few they barely fill a page.

We know the Malaysia Airlines' flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing took off at 12.41am local time.

We know the weather conditions were good, and the pilot and copilot were well respected with 40-years' flying experience between them.

We know that the first 38-minutes of the flight were unremarkable, at least as far as those on the ground were concerned.

We know that after the aircraft's final transmission to Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control — "Goodnight Malaysian three-seven-zero" — the Boeing 777 was never heard from again other than a series of satellite pings.

Beyond that, piecing together the fate of MH370 has been an exercise bogged down in confusion and contradictions, wild speculation and for the next-of-kin, enormous grief and frustration.

For the first week after the flight's disappearance it was thought the plane had crashed into the South China Sea or Gulf of Thailand.

MH370 probe ... a towed vehicle which has been searching the seabed for signs of the missing plane. Source: Supplied

It took the release of military radar data followed by satellite information for the search focus to shift to a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean.

Now after extensive air searches and a costly and ongoing underwater search, nothing of the Boeing 777 has been found. Not so much as a lifejacket, a seat or an oil slick.

Detailed drift modelling forecast wreckage would start washing up on the shores of western Indonesia late last year. Nothing appeared.

Last week Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Martin Dolan said they were reviewing the drift modelling to try to work out where something might materialise.

But he admitted it was more likely any surface debris had now sunk.

The question of the absent wreckage is just one of many facing searchers who are the first to point out they are working with estimates and probabilities — not certainties in relation to the missing aircraft.

Search boss ... Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan. Picture: News Corp Australia Source: News Limited

To put the size of the challenge into context, Commissioner Dolan points out that in the 2009 case of Air France Flight 447 they knew where the A330 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean but it still took two years to find it.

Even with 40 per cent of the 60,000 square kilometre priority search zone now explored without result, Dolan is maintaining a positive outlook.

"The search equipment and the search in terms of the area being covered is all meeting and in some cases exceeding our expectations," Dolan says.

"If all goes in accordance to plan as we expect it will, we'll have completed our search by the end of May."

The exercise has not been cheap.

Australia's government allocated $89.9 million towards the search, being jointly funded by Malaysia's government.

What happens when the money runs out and the plane still hasn't been found, is one of the multitude of questions hanging over MH370.

Captain's call? ... Zaharie Ahmad Shah is at the centre of the missing plane's investigation. Picture: Supplied Source: NewsComAu

First and foremost — why did the plane divert so dramatically from its path in the first place?

Was it in some strife?

Was it a deliberate act by the pilot or first officer?

Was it under control by someone other than the pilots?

They are not the only questions that have gone unanswered in the last year.

Why didn't Malaysia send up fighter jets to escort the plane — when it stopped communicating with ATC and diverted from its course?

Why did it take four-hours for the plane's disappearance to be referred by Air Traffic Control to Malaysian search and rescue authorities?

And the most confounding — how could an aircraft as sophisticated as a Boeing 777-200ER carrying 239 people simply disappear without a trace?

So baffling is the mystery of MH370, no-one has been able to come up with an explanation considered plausible.

What searchers saw ... underwater search vessels have found nothing of interest on the ocean floor to date. Picture: Australian Transport Safety Bureau Source: Supplied

A detailed theory centring on pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah as masterminding a dastardly murder-suicide plot was dismissed as fanciful and full of holes.

Had he managed to lock out his copilot and depressurise the cabin without being challenged by flight crew, why were no attempts made to send text messages, if other aircraft communications were cut?

Other theories — such as hijacking, on board fire, mechanical malfunction, missile strike, cabin depressurisation and sabotage have also failed to satisfy.

US aviation safety expert Captain John Cox is not one to subscribe to crazy theories.

But he does believe the aircraft's disappearance was no accident — rather a deliberate act by someone on board the plane.

"MH370 is already one of aviation's great mysteries," says Captain Cox.

"Never in history has a jet airliner with passengers provided so few clues after so long.

"Until MH370 every jet airliner with passengers aboard has been located and the cause of the accident determined."

Hi-tech ... the Boeing-777 is considered one of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images

He has reached his own theory based on the very limited evidence available, and his extensive knowledge of aircraft operations.

"We can deduce that someone with specific knowledge interacted with two complex computer systems on the aeroplane — Flight Management Computer and ACARS," says the Captain.

"This level and specificity of knowledge is not common and significantly limits the potential candidates.

"We can deduce that this was a deliberate act based on the precise track along the airspace border of Malaysia," he says referring to the aircraft's path across the Strait of Malacca after going off course.

"We can deduce that no outside influence caused the course change, transponder secession or ACARS data termination as there has never been such a case in the history of aviation.

"Therefore the commands were internal."

Encouragingly, he does believe the mystery will be solved because "we know where the aeroplane isn't".

The search area ... where investigators have been looking for MH370. Source: Supplied

Irene Burrows shares his optimism and faith in the Australian-led search effort.

"I'm quite convinced there was human intervention," she says.

"I don't know how or why or whom. Somehow one plane with 239 people just disappeared and here we are 12-months later and still we don't know."

Boeing declined requests for an interview, citing the aircraft manufacturer's involvement in the official investigation into MH370's disappearance.

A spokesman told News Corp, Boeing had "provided technical input, such as how far the aircraft could have flown at that weight and amount of fuel".

"This accident is exceptional in a number of ways — not the least that nothing from the flight has been sighted. Not even a seat cushion," said the spokesman.

In many ways the mystery surrounding the flight has overshadowed the human tragedy of MH370, which in terms of loss of life, is in the top 20 worst air crashes in history.

Still not found ... Brisbane's Bob and Cathy Lawton were on MH370. Picture: Supplied. Source: News Corp Australia

Rodney and Mary Burrows were among the six Australians on board. They were travelling with their long-time Brisbane friends, Bob and Cathy Lawton. Both couples have three adult children, and the Burrows were looking forward to becoming first-time grandparents — to daughter Karla's son, born a month after the flight's disappearance.

Sydney couple Naijun Gu, 31 and Yuan Li, 33, were thought to be on their way to see their young children in Beijing.

The Malaysian husband of Melbourne's Jennifer Chong was on a business trip to Beijing, as she made preparations to move into their new home in the up-market suburb of Kew.

She says the search for MH370 is critically important to the next of kin, but perhaps even more important to aviation safety in general.

"A year after one of the most widely flown aeroplanes in the world disappeared, we still don't know what happened," says Jennifer.

"Meanwhile the same aeroplanes are departing daily from airports all over the world.

"It is vitally important to the safety of the crews and passengers of those aeroplanes to determine what happened to MH370 and for that aeroplane to be found."

Grieving ... MH370 widow Jennifer Chong with a picture of her husband of 23-years, Chong Ling Tan. Picture: David Caird/News Corp Australia Source: News Corp Australia

Jeanette Maguire, whose sister Cathy was on board, has seen her Brisbane home become a gathering place for relatives since the fateful flight.

Cathy, and husband Bob were travelling with the Burrows on a much anticipated trip to China.

Jeanette says the grief and anxiety experienced by all of the family had brought them closer together.

"It's very difficult for everybody, still a lot of anxiety," she says, of the looming anniversary.

"It's the last anniversary of the first as I call it, in terms of we've had the birthdays where you don't have Bob and Cath around, anniversaries, Christmas.

"So this is a different type of first but one that we didn't expect."

Malaysia Airlines has avoided the day to day debate about the aircraft's fate but maintains twice-weekly contact with families and is in the process of negotiating compensation payments.

Paying tribute ... a performer poses in front of messages expresses prayers and well-wishes for passengers onboard MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

Although there were predictions the twin tragedies of MH370 and MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine in July, would sink the financially-troubled airline, it has struggled on.

Next Sunday a group of families bereaved by MH370 will gather in Kuala Lumpur to mark the heartbreaking anniversary, and launch a video of memories of their loved ones.

The group known as Voice370, will also mount a hashtag campaign "Today it's us, tomorrow it could be you #breakthecycle".

"To me, the most important focus right now is keeping the search going," Jennifer says.

"I will advocate for the search to be intensified and diversified.

"If I fail to see him (Chong Ling Tan) home in my lifetime, I want my ashes to be scattered in the southern Indian Ocean, if he really is there."

Her views resonate with Captain Cox.

"As we pass the one year point in the search, we need to pause in memory of those aboard and those families," he says.

"We need to reinforce our commitment to find the wreckage and to focus on the evidence and leave the conspiracy theorists to writing novels."

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