Malaysia has released its first comprehensive report on the disappearance of Flight MH370. But aviation experts tell DW the findings of the international investigation mostly restate what was already known.
The interim report, released on the anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, contains hundreds of pages of factual and technical information about the missing aircraft, including its maintenance record, air traffic control and military radar tracking records, flight history, the pilot's psychological and financial profiles, as well as background info on the 10-member cabin crew.
But aviation experts say that, while rich in detail, the interim report - which is required by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) one year after air accidents - raises no red flags and offers only few new clues as to what may have happened to the plane.
"There is nothing much to go on with the new report," Gerry Soejatman, an independent Jakarta-based aviation analyst told DW. This view is shared by Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor of Flightglobal, an aviation industry website. Other than a few details, the lengthy document "sheds no real light on what happened to the aircraft and why it did this," said Waldron.
So what does the report reveal? The findings of the international investigation team cast no suspicion on the crew: "There were no behavioral signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse of the captain, first officer and the cabin crew," said the document. "The crew-profiling suggests that they were ordinary people with ordinary lives, with no signs of major issues, such as financial distress," said Waldron.
The report reveals that the battery on the plane's underwater locator of the data recorder had expired more than a year before the incident
The paper, however, does reveal that the battery on the plane's underwater locator of the data recorder had expired more than a year before the incident. According to Mark Martin of Martin Consulting, an Asia-based aviation advisory firm, this indicates that the likelihood of the aircraft being detected undersea would have been minimal should it have been ditched.
This could also explain why no pings were heard by search vessels, should there ever have been in the vicinity of the wreckage.
Moreover, the paper shows that not only military, but also civilian primary radar tracked the aircraft for a short period of time after it diverted from its scheduled path. However, as Martin points out, the report does not suggest or indicate any attempts to launch military jet fighters to intercept the target or establish visual contact with the aircraft.
There is also mention of the investigation into the lithium battery shipment and the mango fruit shipment on board, which help exclude that either of them may have played a role in the incident, according to Germany-based independent aviation expert Heinrich Grossbongardt.
The findings also indicate that the plane's communication systems sent several pings which were confirmed "handshakes" with the aircraft. "What we find strange is that we observe the aircraft's ID going missing, and this is clearly an act initiated manually, most likely by someone being well versed with aircraft on board avionics and SATCOM devices," said Martin.
But experts agree that, all in all, there is little new data in the report to work with. "As of today there are absolutely no indications of what may have happened on board. What we can say is that there is no known technical failure mode which would explain the aircraft's deviation from its planned flight path. So far as it's humanly possible to tell, we have to assume that it is the result of deliberate action," analyst Grossbongardt told DW.
The victims' relatives are angry over how both the airline and the authorities have handled the incident
Shrouded in mystery
The investigation team said in the report it expects that further factual information will be available from the wreckage and flight recorders "if the aircraft is found." But until then, the jet's disappearance remains one of aviation's biggest mysteries.
Flight MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, shortly after it left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing in the early morning hours with 239 people on board. Investigators believe an area off Western Australia - along a narrow arc in the southern Indian Ocean - is the most likely resting place of the jet.
According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is leading the underwater search, the area has been narrowed to a 60,000 square kilometer (23,000 square mile) zone - and investigators have so far scoured more than 40 percent of it.
But despite the most expensive search and rescue operation in history, an international team of investigators has yet to find evidence of any wreckage. There were people from 14 different countries on board, with the majority of passengers coming from China (153) and Malaysia (38).
'Committed to the search'
Over the past 12 months, conflicting theories have emerged seeking to explain the incident, including technical malfunction or hijack. But without any identified wreckage, it has been hard to establish facts, thus prolonging the painful wait for the victims' relatives and friends, who on Sunday held remembrance ceremonies in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak said in a statement that "no words can describe the pain the families of those on board are going through. The lack of answers and definitive proof - such as aircraft wreckage - has made this more difficult to bear, adding that Malaysia remains "committed to the search, and hopeful that MH370 will be found."
But many have raised doubts as to whether this will be enough to comfort the victims' families and friends, who have been struggling for months to find answers about the airliner's fate. For instance, some family members are unwilling to accept the Malaysian government's recent conclusion that the passenger jet was lost as the result of an accident and that all people on board are dead.
Anger and frustration
The victims' relatives are also angry over how both the airline and the authorities have handled the incident and say they are afraid the search operations might be called off soon. Australian PM Tony Abbott recently hinted that the search may be scaled back. "I can't promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever but we will continue our very best efforts to resolve this mystery and provide some answers," he said.
Many of the relatives also believe there may be a conspiracy behind the disappearance. Sarah Bajc, whose partner was on the missing plane, told DW that some of the victims' families believe the authorities are "trying to wash their hands off it," arguing that no evidence has emerged to suggest the disappearance was an accident.
"Just a few months ago, they were claiming the plane was potentially hijacked. There is ample evidence that the lack of proper response from Malaysia Airlines, air traffic control, and the Malaysian military is directly responsible for the plane being allowed to disappear," said Bajc.
Global tracking efforts
In the meantime, the aviation industry has begun to take action as a result of the MH370 incident. ICAIO, the United Nations' aviation arm, is seeking to implement a proposal to ensure planes can be tracked and that accident sites can be located quickly, called the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System.
At the moment, a radar station located at or near sea level is able to detect aircraft flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters. However, this range decreases progressively when planes fly lower. Moreover, due to the spherical shape of the Earth, the detection by radar ends on the horizon, making civil or military radar coverage of flights more than 400 kilometers away from land virtually impossible. Hundreds of passenger aircraft routinely cross the Atlantic or the Pacific every day flying thousands of kilometers without any radar surveillance.
This is why the ICAO Council recently endorsed a new standard that will require commercial planes to report their position every 15 minutes. When an aircraft is in distress, the system will repeat the signal every minute. The organization is expected to ratify the proposal in November, making it obligatory for all airlines starting in November 2016.
Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia recently announced they would lead a trial of an enhanced method of tracking aircraft over remote oceans, which is expected to use satellite-based positioning technology already on board 90 percent of long-haul aircraft that transmits the plane's current position and its next two planned positions.