The MH370 final report declares a critical turn by the doomed flight was made manually, but investigators don't know who did it

Greg Wood – Pool/ Getty Images.
  • Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappeared without trace in March 2014, with the loss of 239 lives.
  • A four-year search of the Indian Ocean covered more than 200,000km² of the seabed, but despite changing theories on its location and some debris finds, the fuselage has not been found.
  • The Malaysian government ended the search in May and today released its final report into the disappearance.
  • Relatives of those lost were briefed for several hours on Monday prior to the report’s release
  • The full Malaysian report can be found here.

Malaysian authorities say they “cannot determine with any certainty” why Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014.

“The team is unable to determine the real reason for the disappearance,” lead investigator Dr Kok Soo Chon said releasing the 495-page report on Monday afternoon, Malaysian time.

The key finding of the Malaysian investigation was that the plane turned back, and that had to be done under manual control.

But there were failures by those on the ground after the plane diverted from its planned flight path, with Ho Chi Minh flight controllers failing to notify Chinese authorities when the plane failed to make contact with them, and then air traffic controllers failed to initiate emergency procedures, thereby delaying any search and rescue.

Malaysian Air Traffic Control failed to follow official procedures and emergency protocols six times, the report concludes.

The report dismisses a number of conspiracy theories about the plane and its pilots, and ruled out plane malfunction as a contributing factor.

He left open the possibility that a third party was involved in the demise of the plane.

And while today’s conclusions were billed by the Malaysian government as the final report into the mystery, Kok said it wasn’t the last word because “the answer can only be conclusive if the wreckage is found”.

The Boeing 777 left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41am local time, bound for Beijing, with 12 crew and 227 passengers on board. It has not been found, despite the biggest and most expensive search of aviation history.

Malaysian Safety Investigation Team reportThe initial sequence of events following MH370’s takeoff until communications with the plane were lost

Releasing the report, Kok said it was prepared in consultation with seven other countries, including Australia, USA, China, Indonesia and the UK, who endorse its findings.

He said the investigation concluded that the plane had turned back after take off, which aligns with tracking by civilian and military radar.

“We can conclude that MH370 had turned back and the turn back was not because of anomalies in the mechanical system. The turn back was made not under autopilot but under manual control,” he said.

“We cannot exclude the possibility that there was unlawful interference from a third party.”

However, the report is less certain about two subsequent changes to direction, saying: “it could not be established that the other two turns over the south of Penang and the north of MEKAR were made under manual control or autopilot.”

The report says “It could not be established whether the aircraft was flown by anyone other than the pilots”, but rejected a theory that somehow the plane was hijacked by remote control.

Malaysian Safety Investigation Team reportThe known path of MH370 according to tracking data, after it diverted from its planned flight path.

The pilot was Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah from Penang, 53, a 33-years veteran of the airline, with First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, with seven years experience, in the cockpit beside him.

The investigation has not found any anomalies or abnormal circumstances around the lives of the two men in charge.

They examined Shah’s flight simulator at home, but found “no unusual activities other than game-related flight simulations”.

Claims that Hamid’s mobile phone was used found that it was only a “heat signal”, which Kok said “was just a signal heat to show that the phone was turned on, but there was no call”.

The report also investigated a theory involving 4,566 kg of mangosteens (a tropical fruit) and 221kg of lithium-ion batteries packed as part of 10 tonnes of cargo on the plane.

“The batteries were speculated to be a fire hazard and the mangosteens were also speculated to be out of season at that time of the year,” the report says.

Investigators looked a previous and subsequent similar air cargo shipments, as well as testing batteries for a flash point, to conclude that it wasn’t a problem.

However, they did find that that batteries were not x-rayed for that shipment because there was no machine large enough to screen the pallet.

The majority of the passengers, 152, were Chinese citizens, followed by 38 Malaysians. People from 13 other countries were on board, including seven Indonesians, six Australians, and other individuals from France and the US. Twelve crew members were on board as well.

Air traffic control made its final voice contact with the plane at 01:19am local time. There were no transmissions received after the first 38 minutes and systems designed to automatically transmit the aircraft’s position failed to operate for reasons unknown. The last positively fix was made by surveillance systems at the northern tip of Sumatra.

A satellite “handshake” with the plane occurred around two hours after it was due to land in Beijing, but its location has baffled investigators, sparking the search covering more than 200,000km² of the Indian Ocean seabed.

Investigators concluded that it was likely that all of MH370’s communications systems, including the transponder, were turned off manually but did not rule out malfunction as a possibility.

The key revelation in today’s report is the failure of all four emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) aboard MH370, a radio beacon that will transmit digital distress signals when activated to help find a plane. They are mandatory safety items, but generally have to be activated by the crew.

But the problem is “neither portable nor fixed ELT signals are detectable when the ELT is submerged in deep water” the reports says and a review of accident records over the last 30 years found they are largely ineffective since they were activated in just 39 of 114 accidents.

“This implies that of the total accidents in which ELTs were carried, only about 34% of the ELTs operated effectively,” the report says, going on to say that reviews have been underway since MH370’s disappearance to improve tracking and emergency location devices.

Today Malaysian authorities met with the families of those lost to explain the findings of the government’s final report, ahead of its release.

It comes 10 months after the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which spent three years coordinating the international search for MH370, released its final 440-page report into the mystery last year concluding that what happened to the Boeing 777 will remain unknown until the plane is found.

Following the Malaysian report’s release, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the disappearance was “an unprecedented event”.

“The Australian Government appreciates that, having not located the missing aircraft, it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions about what happened to MH370,” he said.

“As such, I am aware this report does not provide the answers the family and friends of the 239 people on board were seeking.

“I have recently spoken with each of the families of the Australians on board and I acknowledge the sense of loss with which the family, friends and loved ones of the passengers on board MH370 live today and every day.”

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