MH 370: The Investigation…. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

Calling the Malaysian Government’s management of the MH 370 investigation inept would, by all accounts, appear to be an understatement.

Under International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13, Malaysia, as the “state of registry”, runs the investigation.  So stop criticizing the United States for not stepping up and doing more.  The FBI, the NTSB, the FAA and the Navy are fully engaged.

The gold standard for aviation accident investigation is the NTSB. But they’re not directing the investigation or briefing the families.  Their participation is limited, thru ICAO Annex 13, to that of an “Accredited Representative.”  In this role, they can only do what they are asked to do by the Malaysian Government … .not Malaysia Airlines……the Government.

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t had an accident since 1995.  I suspect there’s virtually no one at the airline who has actually managed a real disaster.  I also suspect that the Malaysian Government is thin on experience.  If they do have any, we certainly haven’t seen evidence of it to date.

Under ICAO Annex 13, Malaysia, the “state of registry” of the aircraft, has the ability to ask another “state”, i.e. country, to assume control of the investigation.  As we learned yesterday, the Australian Government has assumed control of the search.  If they were able to put aside national pride, the Malaysian Government should recognize that they’re in over their heads and ask, no, plead, with Australia to take over the whole investigation.

I find it inconceivable that if the NTSB was managing this investigation, even with the dearth of information, we would see heartbreaking scenes of family members being dragged out of briefings by police.  In fact, while it is unlikely to happen, since they are 52 percent owned by the Malaysian Government, Malaysia Airlines ought to demand that their Government delegate this investigation.

As the stewards of ICAO Annex 13, perhaps it’s time for ICAO to convene a conference of signatories to Annex 13 to remind them how an international investigation is supposed to function.

Apart from any other lessons learned to date, the takeaways, so far, for ICAO in this whole disaster include:

  • Examine ICAO Annex 13 and see where improvement/changes can be made
  • Re-educate or, in some instances, educate, signatory nations about how on ICAO Annex is supposed to work
  • Convene, at least annually, at different locations throughout the world, emergency response exercises which involve airlines and several national governments.  In other words, use what has occurred in MH 370 so far, as a vehicle for training exercises going forward
  • The airline industry in the United States is highly sophisticated at preparing for and responding to accidents.  Take advantage of this expertise and use it to make sure that the errors of MH 370 are never repeated
  • At an appropriate time, convene an “after action” conference to discuss the Annex 13 response to MH 370.  Help those involved to learn from their mistakes.

The investigation into MH 370 hasn’t really started.  The airplane still has to be found and the “who, what, when, where, why and how” still have to be determined.  To date, this has been a poorly managed investigation.  The toll it is taking on the families is incomprehensible.  The damage it has done to the crew and the airline is tragic.

The consequences of what’s occurring in this investigation is a public perception of anger, hysterical family members being dragged out of briefings, pilots reputations being destroyed, airlines being attacked and speculation gone rampant.  The responsible management of the investigation and release of information by the accident investigation authority could have avoided all of this.

ICAO should step forward and help unravel this mess before the remainder of the investigation, irrespective of whether the aircraft is or is not located, suffers the fate of what has occurred so far.

(Originally posted March 31, 2014)

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