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MH370: Really, who’s in charge?

 | March 12, 2014

With over 10 nations joining in the search for the missing Boeing 777-200ER, the absence of a command centre is perplexing.

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MH370Ten nations, including the United States and Australia, have mobilised aircrafts and ships to locate MH370, which vanished off the radar early Saturday with 239 people on-board, including the crew.

The MAS Boeing 777-200ER had taken off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport half-hour after midnight and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6.30am. But slightly more than an hour into flight, the plane disappeared, prompting an unprecedented search.

The search covering almost the whole of Southeast Asia, from the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea, is being participated by 34 aircrafts, 40 ships and a battery of search and rescue technologies. Hundreds of fishing vessels have also been mobilised to find traces of MH370.

About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew aboard the plane were Chinese. The airline said other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash was on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

To add drama to the whole matter is the presence of two passengers on the flight who possessed fake passports. Neither Malaysia’s police, the agency leading the investigation locally, nor spy agencies in the United States and Europe have ruled out the possibility that militants may have been involved in downing of MH370.

But Malaysian authorities have indicated that the evidence thus far does not strongly back an attack as a cause for the aircraft’s disappearance, and that mechanical or pilot problems could have led to the apparent crash.

MAS, at a press conference earlier this week, said two passenger in the flight had fake passports and this had led to more talk that the plane could have been subjected to acts of terrorism. There was also talk that five passengers had missed the flight.

But yesterday Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar clarified that one of the two passengers was an Iranian teenager on his way to Frankfurt in Germany and would have been in transit in Beijing. The identity of the other person is yet to be ascertained.

The Malaysian top cop also revealed that only one person, a lady, missed the flight as she mistook the date of her flight to Beijing and not five as earlier reported. While the Malaysian side has been coming out with press conferences on a daily basis, little is explained on how the searches are being conducted.

Standard Operating Procedure

With over 10 countries in the fray one wonders, if the Malaysians have set up a command centre for these rescuers to operate from. Conflicting statements from the Chinese side have made things worse. Chinese authorities are seething over the lack of information on the search.

Setting-up a command centre is the duty of Malaysia. Presently the Malaysia Airlines is taking the main role in informing of its efforts to locate its aircraft. This is supported by announcements from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) and the Malaysian police.

Efforts taken by search and rescue teams from other nations are not elaborated in these press conferences. The Malaysian DCA had been entrusted to take the lead. But the question arises: Is it the duty of the DCA to oversee such search and rescue efforts?

The Malaysian defence forces, which is working behind the scenes, is also mum on the matter except press conferences held by Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. At the same time, those hungry for the latest news on the plane’s disappearance have to follow Twitter or Facebook to exchange information.

After news broke of the aircraft’s disappearance, there were reports from the Vietnamese Navy that the plane had crashed off the waters of Vietnam. But this has yet to be verified. The Chinese on the other hand are combing the South China Sea and are coming out with statements of their own that they have yet to find any debris.

Based on past experience, in a disaster or an untoward incident of this magnitude, the first Standard Operating Procedure would be to set up a command centre. The command centre should be in touch with all involved in the operation and they are required to report back if they had found anything.

Participating nations usually do not hold media conferences but convey their finding to the command centre. The command centre must also inform the media where all respective participating countries are searching and the type of equipment used in the search.

The lack of a central command will only fuel more speculative reports. These are still early days. The search for the jet could run into weeks if not months.

Malaysia must do more to show to the world that it can handle a disaster. Confusing the people is not a way to tackle the issue. There is a dire need to streamline information. This can only be done through experienced public relations experts, which is now sorely lacking.

Malaysian must not just fault the Chinese for wanting prompt answers. Efforts must be taken to explain how the search and rescue mission is being conducted in detail. No stones must be left unturned.

All issues must be addressed. All questions must be answered. This could be a long haul which can last for not days but weeks or even months.


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