Correcting the Record
MH370 reporting by The Australian
28 April 2017
Letter to the Editor of The Australian
I am writing to express my concern regarding the manner in which The Australian journalist Ean Higgins continues to inaccurately report on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – in particular I am concerned at the negative impact this inaccurate reporting is having on the knowledge of the search by the families of those on board the aircraft.
To reiterate, under the International Civil Aviation (ICAO) Annex 13 provisions, the government of Malaysia is responsible for investigating, determining and reporting the causal factors behind the loss of MH370. It is my understanding that their investigation team is well progressed in the development of a draft report. The role of the ATSB, at the request of the government of Malaysia, is to coordinate the conduct of the underwater search.
Many of Mr Higgins’ recent articles have been centred on the ATSB’s decision not to provide him with a series of emails between members of the group of experts advising the ATSB on the search strategy in 2016. The emails pertain to an analysis of the final series of satellite communications between the aircraft and the ground earth station which indicate that the aircraft was, at that time, in a high and increasing rate of decent. The analysis was performed by one of Australia’s leading scientists in the field, is based on solid evidence and it has been extensively peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal.
The implication of this analysis for the search is that the aircraft probably impacted the surface of the ocean reasonably close to where the transmissions were made (what is known as the 7th arc). This is contrary to the views expressed by Mr Higgins and Mr Byron Bailey from The Australian, who have been vocal critics of the search and have long contended that the aircraft was being actively controlled at the end of flight and was glided to a location well away from the area which has been searched. The analysis of the transmission data, when complemented by the recently published CSIRO drift-modelling analysis, provides the best possible definition of an area in which the aircraft is likely to be located.
Mr Higgins’ articles have also consistently attempted to create the appearance of contention between the search strategy experts and members of the ATSB’s search team where none exists. He has suggested in his articles that some ATSB officers have had second thoughts about the ATSB’s position in relation to the end of flight scenario and further;
“(the) Australian Transport Safety Bureau has invoked draconian legislation in refusing to release material about its search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, warning that any bureau employee who provides such information to the public or a court could face two years in jail.”
I find the use of this journalistic tactic particularly objectionable. No such warning has ever been issued, every member of the search strategy group and the ATSB’s search team understands, and is in agreement with, the science associated with the search and the implications on the search area of the analysis of the satellite communication data. Members of the ATSB’s search team are operating under the standard legislation that ATSB employees normally operate under, governing the disclosure and use of information.
Similarly Mr Higgins suggests in his most recent article that the work currently being performed by the ATSB was prompted by negative public opinion about the search. To quote;
“But he (Mr Hood) and his ATSB colleagues are no doubt thinking the best way out of this continuing world of pain is to find MH370, and behind the scenes that’s exactly what they are trying to help make happen.”
This is also incorrect – the CSIRO drift study work we have recently published was commenced in April 2016. It is the most comprehensive and accurate study of the point of origin of MH370 debris performed to date. It forms a part of the ATSB’s ongoing work to bring the best possible science to bear to find the aircraft.
It is particularly regrettable that Mr Higgin’s articles have now led to some of the MH370 next of kin expressing doubts about the ATSB’s conduct of the search, and by implication, our commitment to finding the aircraft. The ATSB’s search team, and the experts from many organisations both in Australia and overseas supporting the search, have worked with absolute commitment, dedication and a single minded focus on finding the aircraft to provide the answers for the families of those on board and to improve transport safety. It is extraordinarily difficult and challenging work.
Leaving aside his harassing and intimidating approach in dealing with my staff when requesting information, you can perhaps now understand why I find Mr Higgins’ approach to attacking the credibility of the search unwarranted. The ATSB reserves its rights not to interact with Mr Higgins.
Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
- Web page updated 1 May 2017 to correct text.