The latest report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 produces many more questions than answers.
Far from offering closure to the families of the 239 people on board, the report released in Malaysia yesterday highlighted what investigators didn’t know, rather than what they did.
The MH370 Safety Investigation Report that was released on Monday. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
The 495-page report can be summed up by its final conclusion: “The team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.”
But although the report sheds no new light on why MH370 vanished on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, it did offer some interesting new tidbits of information.
And it goes some way to debunk many of the conspiracy theories that have taken root in the years since it disappeared in March 2014.
Specifically, in the report there is:
No evidence to incriminate either of the two pilots
Investigations into Captain Zaharie Shah and second pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, including interviews with family and colleagues, showed no signs of mental health issues such as anxiety, apathy or irritability.
Neither showed any evidence of financial problems, drug or alcohol problems or any sudden change of behaviour. Neither had any apparent motive for intentionally taking the plane off course. Both men had an impressive flight record.
The report cleared the captain of suspicion over his use of a flight simulator in the months before MH370 disappeared. The report acknowledged that he had entered seven “manually programmed” waypoint co-ordinates that together created a flight path to the southern Indian Ocean, through the Andaman Sea. But investigators acknowledged an earlier police investigation that had found “there were no unusual activities other than game-related flight simulations”.
The report confirmed that a mobile phone belonging to the second pilot had made a “signal hit” as the plane flew over Penang, Malaysia. But no communication was recorded.
Investigators carried out tests on another flight that showed only “one brand of phone was able to make a call at 20,000ft.”
No evidence that anyone other than the pilots flew the plane
None of the other 10 crew on board MH370 had any flight training. There was no specific evidence to implicate any of the passengers. Yet the report stated the aircraft’s sudden diversion could only have been achieved manually.
Disengaging the autopilot while on route to Beijing raised the possibility of “intervention by a third party”. The report draws no conclusion on who such a third party would be.
It also stated that while the initial westward deviation from the plane’s course could not have been achieved without manual intervention, the investigative team could not conclude with certainty whether later turns — south of Penang and at the northern tip of Sumatra — were done manually or on autopilot.
Snapshot of seven manually programmed ‘waypoints’ the captain put in his personal flight simulator. (Safety Investigation Report)
No evidence that the plane had been flown remotely
Some reports raised suspicions about a US patent that Boeing had filed in February 2003 for a system that, once activated, would remove all controls from pilots and allow remote agents or governments to fly and land an aircraft at a predetermined location to foil hijacking attempts.
But Boeing had confirmed it has never installed such a system on any aircraft, and was not aware of any commercial aircraft with such technology.
No evidence of more fuel ordered for flight
There was no evidence the captain ordered an unusually large amount of fuel for the flight, as some theories have suggested, in order to fly the plane deliberately to the southern Indian Ocean.
No evidence that terrorists sought to bring MH370 down
No individual or group had claimed credit for the aircraft’s disappearance. And tests done on interior cabin debris found on Indian Ocean beaches showed no signs of an explosion on board.
No evidence of fire
There was no evidence there was a fire on board, as suggested in some of the earliest reports after the aircraft disappeared.
No evidence of suspicious cargo
There is nothing to back claims that some of the plane’s cargo was suspicious. Investigators examined every item of cargo known to be on board, including a 221kg load of lithium batteries and 4,566kg of mangosteens.
Indeed, tests were done to see if either or both cargos could cause a fire or explosion. Investigators interviewed the batteries’ manufacturer Motorola and established that the load was not particularly large or hazardous. Both items were found to be nothing out of the ordinary.
No evidence of malfunction
The Boeing 777 had passed all relevant safety and performance checks. Past damage had been repaired. Any defects identified in the plane were considered minor, and were nothing that would cause the aircraft to divert from its planned route.
No evidence physiological factors played a part
There was no evidence that the pilots — or anyone on board — had suffered hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. The report stated that “there was no evidence that physiological factors or incapacitation affected the performance of flight crew members on MH370”.
So, what is revealed in the report?
French marine scientists carried out tests on barnacles found on the right flaperon, found on Reunion Island in 2015, confirmed to have come from MH370. They identified the crustacea as Lepas (Anatifa) anatifera striata de Graaf. The scientists’ own report said the subspecies was strictly pelagic and always lived on floating objects.
“It is cosmopolitan and disseminated in the world’s oceans at tropical to temperate latitudes … Rarely reported in the literature, this subspecies is specifically mentioned off Western Australia,” the report stated.
Barnacles were tested on the MH370 aircraft flaperon (foreground) to determine their source. (Supplied: CSIRO)
The report lists 27 items of debris found in the Indian Ocean and confirmed or believed to be from MH370. It gave no assessment as to where the debris may have come from. But it acknowledges “some debris have been recovered consistent with having drifted over nearly two years from the area in which impact is thought to have occurred”.
The recovery of interior cabin debris suggested the plane was likely to have broken up. But the investigators admitted “there is insufficient information to determine if the aircraft broke up in the air or during impact with the ocean.”
Without discovering the plane’s wreckage, none of the questions about the disappearance of the Boeing 777 could be answered. The report made no mention of whether another search for the Malaysian Airlines plane would begin any time soon.
And without another search, the chance of finding MH370 was almost zero.