Anwar: Malaysia hiding information on lost jet
KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim accused the government of hiding information on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as two ships with sophisticated underwater equipment zeroed in on Friday on a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean in a hunt for the plane’s black boxes.
Anwar said he was “baffled” over the Malaysian military’s failure to respond despite detecting the Boeing 777 crossing back over the country’s airspace following its mysterious detour.
“Unfortunately the manner in which this was handled after the first few days was clearly suspect,” Anwar said in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
“Clearly information critical to our understanding is deemed missing. I believe the government knows more than us.”
Malaysia’s response to the crisis has been widely criticized, particularly by relatives of the 153 Chinese people aboard.
The plane went missing on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Malaysia has said satellite data indicates it crashed in the Indian Ocean, far off western Australia.
But no debris indicating a crash site has been found despite an extensive search, as time runs out on the black box locator signal, which lasts only around 30 days.
Anwar, who recently had his acquittal on sodomy charges overturned in what he claims is a political smear by the government, said a “sophisticated” radar system that he authorized as finance minister in 1994 should have led to prompt action.
Malaysia’s armed forces said soon after the plane disappeared that military radar had picked up an unidentified object moving toward the Indian Ocean, but did nothing because it was not deemed “hostile.”
The decision has been criticized for losing valuable time. It took Malaysia one week to confirm the radar blip was MH370 and subsequently reorient a huge search away from its initial focus in the South China Sea.
Anwar said Malaysia should have moved quickly to save other countries scouring “a place that they know cannot be the site of the plane.”
Anwar defended the aircraft’s pilot, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who is also a personal friend and a member of his political party.
“If you say or suggest that the pilot may have been involved, what about the concealing [of information]?” he told the Telegraph. “He could not have concealed the radar readings. He could not have instructed the air force to remain completely silent.”
A Malaysian government spokesperson said: “Anwar has made numerous unfounded allegations criticizing Malaysia.”
“Instead of trying to exploit the MH370 tragedy to score political points, it would be constructive if he could support the government as it coordinates the multinational search operation.”
Malaysia’s government has a poor record on transparency, typically sweeping corruption scandals and other embarrassments under the rug. But Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein insisted this week it was “not hiding anything” on MH370.
Australia has assumed increasing responsibility over the physical search for the plane.
Two ships with equipment that can hear the black boxes’ “pings” were making their way along a 240-kilometer route that investigators hope may be close to the spot where Flight MH370 entered the water after it vanished.
But the head of the agency coordinating the search acknowledged the search area was essentially just a best guess—and noted that time was running out for search crews to find the coveted data recorders.
“The locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions—so we’re now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire,” Angus Houston said.
The Australian Navy ship Ocean Shield, which is dragging a towed pinger locator from the US Navy, and the British Navy’s HMS Echo were looking for the black boxes in an area investigators settled on after analyzing satellite pings the aircraft gave off after it disappeared.
Because the pinger locator can pick up black box signals up to a depth of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet), it should be able to hear the devices even if they are lying in the deepest part of the search zone—about 5,800 m below the surface.
But that’s only if the locator gets within range of the black boxes—a tough task, given the size of the search area.
The black boxes would provide crucial information about what condition the plane was flying under and any communications or sounds in the cockpit.
But with no wreckage found, officials can’t be confident they’re looking for the black boxes in the right place, said Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University. Reports from AFP and AP