Flight MH370 confirmed lost: Experts respond

A woman leaves a message for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. Photo / AP
A woman leaves a message for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. Photo / AP

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, with no survivors. In a press conference, Razak said new information proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that the plane was lost.

The new data came from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and private company Inmarsat. The plane disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Relatives of the passengers were notified of the news by text message.

The Conversation is seeking response from academic experts in various fields to make sense of the conclusion to this tragedy.



Malaysia's response

Adam Tyson, Lecturer in Southeast Asian Politics, University of Leeds

The Malaysian authorities responsible for handling the MH370 crisis were unprepared for the level of international scrutiny that began on March 8. The mishandled case can be explained in part by the prevailing political system in Malaysia. The ruling party is publicly accountable but certainly enjoys the strong backing of national newspapers such as Utusan Melayu and television networks such as TV3, creating a layer of insulation from scrutiny.

Senior officials tend to operate in a highly controlled hierarchical environment. Malaysian officials of rank do not deal well with criticism, and often accuse domestic activists and critics of conspiratorial motives - an effective diversionary tactic in most cases.

Officials on the frontline of the extraordinary MH370 case were subjected to relentless questioning. There was no script to follow, and unlike other recent international controversies (the Anwar Ibrahim trials), no usual suspects to blame. Chinese journalists and investigators were particularly vigilant, and the growing microblog community caused further confusion and anger by rapidly spreading rumours.

There was no hiding place for aristocrats such as Datuk Azharuddin, the Director General of Civil Aviation, or Dato' Seri Hishamuddin, the transport minister. It was only a matter of time before Malaysian commentators set aside their grief and channelled their anger toward Hishamuddin, who implausibly has double ministerial duties (transport as well as defence) and is the cousin of current Prime Minister Najib Razak.



Searching the southern Indian Ocean

Chris Hughes, leader of the National Oceanography Centre Sea Level subgroup, University of Liverpool

It would be hard to choose a more complicated region of the ocean to be searching for debris. The search area west of Australia lies just on the northern flank of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a huge ocean current encircling Antarctica which is in many ways similar to the atmospheric jet stream, or a series of jet streams.


Photo / AP

It is now 16 days since flight MH370 was lost. In that time, debris could have drifted by several hundred kilometres from where, it is presumed, the plane hit the water, and the patch of debris could have spread by a substantial fraction of that distance.

So, even once debris has been found and confirmed to be from the plane, finding any sunken remains will still be a big challenge. The ocean in that region is about 3,500 to 4,000 metres deep, and finding sunken wreckage will involve combing a vast area with advanced sonar imaging technology.

Then there is the challenge of reaching it. Only specialised equipment can operate at the pressures of more than 3,500 atmospheres which are involved.



Recovering the black box

Yijun Yu, Senior Lecturer, Department of Computing and Communications, and Andrew Smith, Lecturer in Cisco Networking, Open University

The first step for the MH370 mission is to find the black box. The device is actually more often orange or yellow in colour so that it can be found more easily following a plane crash but it is still no mean feat to locate one. It took around two years to find the black boxes from Air France flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009. The search for MH370 has already proved difficult and ocean currents may carry the device and other parts of the wreckage on an unpredictable journey.

Then, once the black box is found, we can't be certain that it will yield information. While the devices are designed to tolerate immersion in water, high velocity impact and damage, they are not indestructible. Occasionally data has to be collected from their remains which means there has to be a scientific and forensic process of analysis. Success on this front will depend on how the data is stored as well as how much the battery life of the black box.

Technological issues aside, once the recordings have been recovered from the black box, investigators will have to decide if what was said by the pilots in the final moments of the flight can be believed. It can really only be treated as one piece of the puzzle.

The opinions of the pilot and co-pilot, no matter how experienced they are, can only be based on what they see and believe as they handle a high-pressure situation. This may not entirely reflect what the actual aviation issue may have been unless there is other data to back it up.

Read more here.



Families dealing with grief

Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool

The argument for sending everyone a text message is that you don't want the news to drip out in an uncoordinated way so you can see why they'd say, "Let's have a single message."


Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak , left, and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Photo / AP

It sounds brutal, it sounds like a bad way to do things and it could seem ill-advised, but one of the things that is really bad for people is to have uncontrolled rumours. So I can see why you'd want to give this message very clearly and in a way you can literally take away. But it's important that the families are taken aside, told what they need to know and have it followed up with written information.

But there are other limitations, apart from the image that this conveys. Anyone who receives that text message would immediately have their questions. If you're sending someone a text message, every single person will have a different question: When did you decide? Have you seen bodies? Is this based on statistical probability? Do you know why? All of the questions will come out and those are not easy to respond to via text message.

The first things the families need now is information - they need information more than anything else. Authorities need to tell them as much as they know, as clearly as they can.

The second thing they need is to have a sense of community and shared support for each other. When people go through shared tragedies, those tragedies are somewhat easier to bear if you're part of a community. At this stage, I wouldn't necessarily try to offer them therapy or counselling, I'd try to offer them facts and try to build a sense of community.

We mustn't second guess people's psychological reactions. As a psychologist I wouldn't try to interpret those reactions. Whatever is happening should be considered normal.

What can the media do? They shouldn't use grief as spectator sport. I know it's very attractive, but you should leave them alone. Please don't think the media can do something helpful for these people. Don't take photos when somebody is doing something slightly unusual like rocking or praying or getting angry; that's what people do. They're not odd, they're not strange and they're not particularly interesting. Don't judge them, and leave them alone. All shades of human emotional response are normal and natural.



The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article.

By Peter Kinderman, University of Liverpool; Adam Tyson, University of Leeds; Andrew Smith, The Open University; Chris Hughes, National Oceanography Centre, and Yijun Yu, The Open University

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