MH370 Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s excuse for not intercepting Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 shows that he has a poor understanding of his job, said constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas.
To the question why the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) did not intercept the aircraft after it deviated from its flight path and switched off its transponder, Hishammuddin had previously retorted, “If we are going to send it (jets) up, are you going to say we were going to shoot it down?”
“That tells you how wrong his grasp of his office is,” Tommy (right) said at a public forum last night, titled ‘The Tragedy of MH370: Accident or Human Error?’
“The purpose of intercepting, essentially what would happen is two air force planes will go (after the aircraft), one to the left-hand side and one to the right-hand side and try to establish communications with the pilot, and they will know what is happening,” he said.
He told the audience of over 100 persons that if MH370 refused to respond to the air force, at the very least RMAF would known where the aircraft had crashed because it would have witnessed it.
“That is the purpose of interception, not to shoot the wretched thing as a first option,” he said, adding that it would have been obvious to any intercepting RMAF pilot that it is a MAS aircraft and would not shoot it down.
MH370 had gone missing on March 8, after it had deviated from its original path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew towards the Indian Ocean.
With its transponder disabled, the aircraft would have appeared as an unidentified aircraft to radar operators.
The RMAF had been criticised for determining that it is friendly aircraft despite being unable to identify it at the time, and for failing to intercept it as it flew across Malaysian airspace.
Ongoing search efforts have failed to locate any trace of the aircraft so far, nor the 239 passengers and crew members on board.
DCA 'lacks expertise' to probe air accidents
While the RMAF has not disclosed its criteria for determining whether an aircraft is hostile, another speaker Lam Choong Wah said MH370 would have been treated as hostile and intercepted under the criteria set by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
He said there are three items in the criteria: If an aircraft enters an airspace without filing a flight plan beforehand; if its transponder is not working; if two-way radio communications could not be established.
“So in this scenario, MH370 fulfilled these three conditions. In the American case, they certainly will scramble their jets to intercept it, but in Malaysia we have a different case,” he said.
The senior fellow at the DAP-linked think tank, Research for Social Advancement (Refsa), also called for Malaysia to establish an independent body to investigate air accidents, similar to those in the US, Australia, UK and France.
Lam (left) said air accidents in Malaysia are currently investigated by a division under the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), but it lacks the expertise to do so.
“If we have one (air accident investigation bureau), then we don’t need to count on Australia so much. Right now we are counting on Australia to do the whole thing for us, including search and rescue of the aircraft, and investigating the (incident),” he said.
He added that Malaysia has the largest low-cost airline terminal in the region and more air traffic than countries like Singapore and Thailand, yet these countries have dedicated bodies for investigating air accidents.
For the record, the last audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2005 has found that Malaysia is only 33.3 per cent effective in implementing protocols related to air accident investigation, compared to the global average 53.8 per cent.
This places Malaysia in the 133rd position out of 186 countries, and the second last position in the Asean region, ahead of Cambodia.
Also speaking at the forum last night was DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, who reiterated his call on the government to establish a royal commission of inquiry on the MH370 incident, or at least to table a white paper in parliament.
He said there must be a progress report of some form, instead of just waiting for the missing aircraft to be found.
'Keep forums going so MH370 not forgotten'
Meanwhile, a friend of MH370’s Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (left) made an impassioned plea for such forums to continue, in response to a reporter’s questions regarding the purpose of the forum, and whether the forum would further aggravate the feelings of victim’s families.
“We would like for things like this to continue because there is a trend in the Malaysian media for this to be slowly forgotten. It is important that we keep this going until we find the truth.
“To the families, that would be the beginning of closure. Without that, it would be very, very difficult,” said Peter Chong, who was amongst the audience.