26 March 2014
Am I alone in feeling that aspects of search for the missing Malaysian airliner, Flight MH370, have taken on the form of an international Dance of the Seven Veils?
From the initial denials of responsibility, through to the drip feeding from various countries of what their satellites had disclosed, followed by the almost shameless rush to the southern Indian Ocean to see which country could get there first and claim the prize of spotting some wreckage, this whole affair has been more about the prestige of the nations involved in the exercise, than the plight of those on the aircraft and their anxious and distraught families. Every country now seems to have known something – more than it was prepared to let be known originally – that it now seems keen to suggest was the real turning point in the hunt for Flight MH370.
Through this whole debacle, the strong impression is left that more was known sooner about the fate of this flight, but that the countries involved did not want to let that be known, for fear of possibly harming their wider surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. However, as more and more information seeped out, those same countries realised they ran the risk of being caught out and therefore, with almost quite indecent haste in recent days, deemed it desirable to share more and more information about the most likely fate of the aircraft, and how long they had known about it.
This cynicism and wariness (“my satellite is better than yours”) approach may have its place in the field of international espionage, but surely has no place in the world of international rescue, where the lives of victims and the circumstances of distraught families ought to hold sway.
The analysis of the particular circumstances of Flight MH370 will continue for years yet. The motivations of the crew, the scouring of the passenger list and cargo manifest for anything suspicious are far from complete. Aircraft engineers and designers will pore over all the data gathered to learn what lessons they can. And the likely legal fall-out will no doubt parallel that of other tragedies like Lockerbie in 1989, or the Korean Airlines flight shot down near Sakhalin Island in 1983.
One area that does require ongoing examination and perhaps the development of new protocols regarding operations and information sharing is that of international rescue. As this case has shown, the international rescue and recovery exercise has been somewhat unclear, with authority being assumed by a variety of countries at different stages of the operation as fresh information became available and aircraft and ships swooped to the newly identified sites, while Prime Ministers took their chance of glory. There must surely be a better way in the future.
However, there is one aspect of all this we should never forget. The bravery, determination and commitment of the rescues crews (our own RNZAF P3 Orion crew especially) who carried on day after day was remarkable. Even more so was the ongoing focus – stated so eloquently on television by a young RNZAF Flying Officer – on the families and their determination to help them find certainty if they could. In the midst of all the other bizarre features of this story, that was inspirational heroism at its best. A focus others could perhaps have done with.