MH370: What Happens Next?

The searchers haven’t located anything yet…..no floating debris, no wreckage, no black boxes, no nothing.  But what happens if the wreckage, along with the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, is located?  How does the investigation proceed?

We all know that under ICAO Annex 13, the Malaysian Government runs the investigation.  This means that the rules and procedures promulgated by the Malaysian Government control the investigative process.  While they haven’t appeared to do a very good job to date, it may surprise a lot of people to learn that Malaysia has a relatively extensive set of accident investigation procedures (http://aip.dca.gov.my/aip%20pdf%20new/AIC/AIC%20200530.pdf) in place which incorporate not only ICAO Annex 13, but the ICAO Manual of Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation.  It is these procedures, about which virtually no one has spoken, which, at least theoretically, will define the investigation process going forward.

While accident investigations conducted in the United States by the NTSB operate using the party system (https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/process.html), like many nations, Malaysia does not do so.

Part XII is entitled “Investigation of Accidents”, and is part of the Malaysian Civil Aviation Regulation 1996.  Among other things provided for are the following:

– All expenses incurred in recovering the aircraft (assuming it is located) shall be paid by and receivable from the owner, i.e. Malaysia Airlines/its insurer (Regulation 125);

– The Minister of Transportation appoints a Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, as well as other Inspectors (Regulation 126);

– The Inspector can issue summons for witnesses or documents and take sworn statements from them (Regulation 127);

– All investigations are private (Regulation 128);

– An investigation may be discontinued and no report issued (Regulation 128);

– Unless discontinued, the Chief Inspector submits a report to the Minister of Transportation, including recommendations.  That report contains facts, analysis and conclusions (Regulation 129);

– The accident reports, absent good reasons to the contrary, shall be made public (Regulation 131).

Obviously, the ability to implement these procedures, particularly a report with facts, analyses, conclusions and recommendations, necessitates, first and foremost, the “black boxes and/or the wreckage.  Without them, it is inconceivable that any report, much less a meaningful one, can be prepared.

As we listen to media reports of the Blue Fin mapping the unknown depths of the Indian Ocean, the prospect that there will never be anything more than speculation is becoming more and more likely.

It appears that the aerial search for floating debris is about to be called off.  The real question remaining is whether and, if so, when the underwater search is abandoned and the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 remains just that, a mystery.

(Originally posted April 18, 2014)

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