MH370, Not a Priority the Night it Went Missing – MAS Boss

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By Athena Yenko | June 24, 2014 12:31 PM EST

Finding a lost plane within the course of its travel is not a priority for international air traffic controllers, and so was the case for the missing MH370, Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) commercial boss, Hugh Dunleavy, said in an interview with London Evening Standard.

REUTERS/Rob Griffith/Pool/File
The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this March 31, 2014 file photo. Major airlines are united on the need for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight fH370 and have not raised cost as a concern, a senior official with the United Nations' aviation agency said on May 26, 2014.

"We were calling, but they've got other planes in the air; they're saying, 'Your plane never entered my air space, so technically I don't have to worry about it at the moment'. They're not dropping everything to answer us," Dunleavy said.

According to Dunleavy, MAS had been facing the angry relatives of the plane's passengers, but they only get search updates when updates were already in the news - especially during the time when a source claimed seeing the plane off the Malacca Strait.

 "I only heard about this through the news. I'm thinking, really? You couldn't have told us that directly? Malaysia's air traffic control and military radar are in the same freakin' building. The military saw an aircraft turn and did nothing. They didn't know it was MH370, their radar just identifies flying objects, yet a plane had gone down and the information about something in the sky turning around didn't get released by the authorities until after a week. Why? I don't know. I really wish I did," he sternly said.

From the very night that MH370 went missing up until this very day that the plane is not yet found, Dunleavy can only visualise what could have been different if immediate attention was given the minute they called to notify the authorities.

Dunleavy shared that during the first hours that the plane was missing, MAS executives believed the plane diverted. However, alarm escalated when the plane did not land in Beijing.

 "But by 06.30, the plane was supposed to be landing at Beijing. People were waiting for it; we had to do a press release," Dunleavy recalled.

The next hours were hazy as media in Beijing clank for MAS executives to explain what happened. Dunleavy said 130 MAS executives needed to fly to Beijing to face the media, but none of them had Chinese visa. It did not help that another two hours were wasted negotiating for officials to issue visas.

"No one wants to talk about that side of things but it took hours, not minutes, to sort it all out - there were negotiations. Eventually we got to Beijing at 10.30pm. Then officials came to our plane to issue visas, which took another two hours."

Blames on MAS started piling.

"People say, 'Why didn't you work quicker?' But you're calling pilots, explaining the situation, waiting for them to send out pings, doing the same to the next plane, then the next, and it's four in the morning, you don't have 50 people in the office, only a couple. An hour goes by frighteningly quickly - you realise that the missing plane is now another 600 miles somewhere else," Dunleavy explained.

False information were circulated in a speed of lightning.

"After only an hour in the control room, rumours were coming in on social media. 'Your plane has landed in Nanning, China'. 'It's in the airport of an island near Borneo'. You've got to follow up, calling your local people, getting them out of bed to find up someone who worked at the airports - mostly remote places, not 24-hour operations - to check if the plane was there. We lost an hour just on that Nanning rumour."

By the time the executives reached Beijing to give MAS' official statement, the media and the families had already yielded to the news that the plane was hijacked by terrorists.

 "As far as the families were concerned, the plane had been hijacked by terrorists, the Malaysian government was negotiating with them, and we weren't telling them. I knew that wasn't happening - there had been zero communications from MH370."

The next 32 hours became more obscure that Dunleavy, dubbed as MAS' public face, had to inform families that they "all need to be prepared for the worst."

However, Dunleavy gave assurance that they did not sleep on the job.

"No one went to bed. But we had no news. Conspiracy theories were coming out - blaming Chinese scientists on board, the mangosteen [4.6 tons of the exotic fruit were on board], all this rubbish. Every news channel had some 'expert' - who'd never been to Malaysia, and had no idea about our planes - coming up with stories about what may have happened. Then a family member would latch on to one of those ideas that appealed to them. There would be 50 different people all arguing about 50 different scenarios, and I'm saying - through a translator - 'I can't tell you what happened until we find the plane', over and over."

Dunleavy said that even with the great obscurity surrounding the MH370, he said MAS will continue caring for  the people - the grieving families, MAS staff and shareholders.

 "We will always remember MH370. We will take care of the people and we're working on what sort of a memorial we will have. But we are a business. We have to keep flying, we have 20,000 staff, shareholders, and 50,000 passengers each day. We owe it to them to get the airline back and move beyond MH370."

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(Photo: REUTERS/Rob Griffith/Pool/File / REUTERS/Rob Griffith/Pool/Files)
The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this March 31, 2014 file photo. Major airlines are united on the need for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight fH370 and have not raised cost as a concern, a senior official with the United Nations' aviation agency said on May 26, 2014.
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