The Malaysian Insider

I beg to differ from Hishammuddin

malaysia-airlines-mh370Frankly, I nearly fell off my chair when I read the news quoting Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein saying “If you want to apportion blame, you have to apportion blame to nearly the whole world” when he was asked about the MH370 tragedy in a press conference recently.

Being the defence minister, which is the highest rank of administrator, he should show us how a responsible man behaves and administers such an important ministry.

But, he often let us down whenever he is confronted with questions related to MH370.

The air force and Hishammuddin keep on insisting MH370 was not intercepted because it was not identified as a hostile target.

But, how did they conclude the blips that appeared on military primary radar were not a hostile target? What are the criteria used by them to make such conclusion?

Without relying on Malaysian secretive intercept policy, which shouldn’t be, one can resort to two other sources to shed some light on it.

According to United States’ FAA regulations, an aircraft will be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, potentially leading to interception by fighter aircraft if it flies in or through the boundary without prior filing in its flight plan, an operational radar transponder and maintain two – way radio contact.

The point was reinforced by the former Malaysian Air Force Chief Gen Suleiman Mahmud (rtd) that hostility of aircraft was determined by its transponder’s data.

In the case of MH370, the aircraft flew through the peninsula under the condition of the on-board transponder and radio had been switched off due to unknown reasons.

This certainly is conforming to the above conditions of identifying MH370 as a hostile subject, according to American standards.

Asking back the reporters whether the air force should have shot MH370 down if it were intercepted at the press conference merely shows us an irresponsible act of dodging the tough questions.

There is no need for us to go through another 911 tragedy to learn precious preventive and mitigating measures from it. Even a primary school pupil knows we can get such and information from the Internet.

The question is not about are we in a war mode, the real question is whether or not you abide to the established standards.

Hishammuddin said Malaysia did better than Air France flight 447 incident and that Air France only activated search and rescue operations (SAR) after seven hours of loss of communication, while MAS triggered SAR only after four hours.

But again, are we really doing better? There are several facts that need to be distinguished before we make a comparison.

Flight AF447 took off from Brazil on May 31, 2009 and vanished when crossing the Atlantic Ocean at 2.14am, June 1, 2009.

The flight, until the moment it vanished was under Brazilian Air Traffic Controller’s jurisdiction before passing the flight control to Dakar ATC, Senegal.

Scrutinising Brazilian responses and reactions are far more crucial than Air France itself.

By analysing the timelines of both events, Brazil took three hours, 48 minutes to initiate SAR, while Malaysia took four hours and 11 minutes.

In short, Malaysia still took more time than Brazil. Did Hishammuddin realise this fact?

AF447 flew at an area which is out of Brazilian radar coverage and HF was the only means of communication when the incident took place.

In contrast, MH370 was still within Malaysia’s radar coverage. Why did Malaysia lose MH370 when Malaysia had better radar oversight in this case?

It is true that Air France set up a crisis group and the ALERFA-INCERFA-DETRESFA messages were sent only after nearly seven hours of losing communication with AF447.

ICAO’s Annex 11 Document 5.2.1 says that the air traffic controller should notify rescue coordination centre and issued ALERFA-INCERFA-DETRESFA messages immediately when no communication has been received from an aircraft.

Nonetheless, when were MAS’s INCERFA, ALERFA and DETRESFA messages sent? Please show us the timeline.

One can see that the more answers Hishammuddin gives, the more questions arise. Uttering more silly remarks may work in Malaysia, which was ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, but it won’t work when facing the outspoken foreign media and a more open civil society. – May 19, 2014.

* Lam Choong Wah is a former military reporter, and he is currently a senior fellow at REFSA. He holds a BEng in aerospace engineering, USM, and a master’s degree in strategic and defence studies, UM.

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