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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two Years On, Still No Answers On Missing Malaysian Plane

The missing aircraft is pictured taking off at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France in 2011. (Laurent Errera/Wikimedia Commons)

The missing aircraft is pictured taking off at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France in 2011. (Laurent Errera/Wikimedia Commons)

On March 8, 2014, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stopped communicating with air traffic control. It then disappeared. Two years later, the mystery of what happened to the plane continues.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest, who has just published the book “The Vanishing of Flight MH370: The True Story of the Hunt for the Missing Malaysian Plane.”

Book Excerpt: ‘The Vanishing Of Flight MH370’

By Richard Quest

Cover of "The Vanishing of Flight MH370"

It was Chris Cuomo, the anchor of New Day, who first asked me, shortly after MH370’s disappearance, “Richard, will they find the plane?” I answered without a moment’s hesitation, “Of course they will.” He followed up with another question: “And if they don’t?” I didn’t flinch. “They must find it.”

In the following days, then weeks, months, and now years, Chris and all my other anchor colleagues have asked me the same question again and again. My answer has always been the same. “Yes, they will find it. They must.” As the time has gone by, sometimes I think I detect a certain wry smile on my colleagues’ faces as the words I uttered with such certitude come back to haunt me. So far I have been proved wrong.  Some are now saying that the plane may never be found, that the task is too great. Assuming the Inmarsat data is correct, and the plane is lying along the seventh arc, the water is too deep, the ocean canyons too wide, the area too large. The search teams could be trolling right over the wreckage and never notice it.

Many people have asked me how I can write a book about MH370 when authorities haven’t found the plane and the ending to this story remains unknown. My answer has always been that the need for a book like this does not hinge on finding the plane. The vanishing of MH370 has raised too many other issues for this to be the case. Of course we want to know what happened during those moments, on the morning of March 8, 2014, at 1:19, just after Captain Zaharie said, “Good night Malaysian 370.” But if we never discover the facts, there are plenty of other issues occasioned by the plane’s disappearance and it is these that must be resolved. There is the failure of air traffic control on that night, the confusion and political interference in the search operation, and the new methods of tracking planes and retrieving vital black-​box data that are now being considered.

Richard Quest is author of "The Vanishing of Flight MH370." (Matthew Percival)

Richard Quest is author of “The Vanishing of Flight MH370.” (Matthew Percival)

I have sat through more hours of news conferences, interviews, and debates about MH370 than most people. I have read the reports. I have seen the documents. I have spoken to those who were involved in making decisions about how to find the plane. In the face of the increasing difficulties, I still believe they will find it. I say this not out of some simplistic view that missing planes are always found, but because the plane must be found; the vanishing of such a large aircraft is simply not acceptable. There are more than 1,200 of the 777 family of planes flying around the world today. As Sir Tim Clark, the CEO of Emirates, put it, “MH370 remains one of the great aviation mysteries. I have the concern that we will treat it as such and move on. We mustn’t allow this to happen. We must know what caused that airplane to disappear.”

After the search teams have finished covering the 46,000 square miles (120,000 square kilometers) currently designated as the most probable place where the plane went down, if nothing has been found there, the whole matter becomes much more problematic.

If the searching stops, a major rethink will have to take place. First, of course, the authorities will need to be absolutely certain that the search was thorough and that nothing was missed. In the case of AF447, some of the earlier searches missed the plane, even when it was right beneath them. So there will need to be absolute confidence that the two-​year search did not miss the plane. After that, of course, there will probably be a full-​scale review of the evidence, the science upon which it was based, and the decisions taken. The search must somehow continue. That is what I really mean when I say, “They will find the plane, they must.” There can be no temptation to consign this to the history books as an aviation mystery that was too difficult to solve. If the searchers find nothing in their search, then they need to go back to square one. This will involve questioning everything that they have believed to be true and seeing if it remains valid. The inquiry should open its doors and its minds to other experts who may have a different perspective. There has been much criticism of the tight-fisted way information has been held, and there are independent experts who might have had something to contribute who have been shut out of the investigation. I am not recommending that the investigators invite every crackpot and crank into the room to have a go at the evidence. However, if they have failed to find anything, there can no longer be any justification for exclusive access to an investigative elite. The investigators have told us all along they are confident in the science and the analysis. If nothing is found, their arguments weaken and they must let others in.

All of this is in the future. In the big scheme of aviation, I think the lives of 239 people, the confidence in 1,200 flying aircraft, and the reputation of the industry demand that yes, they find it. They must.

From THE VANISHING OF FLIGHT MH370: The True Story of the Hunt for the Missing Malaysian Plane by Richard Quest. Reprinted by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Richard Quest.

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