On a quest for the truth

Vet­eran CNN jour­nal­ist Richard Quest re­counts his ex­pe­ri­ences cov­er­ing the MH370 saga in his new book.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

AS an avi­a­tion correspondent for news chan­nel CNN, vet­eran jour­nal­ist Richard Quest has had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence when it comes to re­port­ing on air dis­as­ters.

From the bomb­ing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Locker­bie, Scot­land, in 1988, to the crash of Air France Flight 447 in Rio de Janeiro in 2009, Quest has been in­volved in the news cov­er­age of many avi­a­tion in­ci­dents through the years, of­fer­ing his unique in­sights and anal­y­sis to help view­ers un­der­stand com­plex and tech­ni­cal avi­a­tion is­sues.

Yet on March 7, 2014, even Quest found him­self in a sit­u­a­tion he found hard to com­pre­hend when he first got news that a Malaysian air­liner had sud­denly gone miss­ing. This is an ex­pe­ri­ence he de­scribes in his new book, The Van­ish­ing Of Flight 370: The True Story Of The Hunt For The Miss­ing Malaysian Plane, which was re­leased ear­lier this week.

“Like many other avi­a­tion pun­dits, I had lit­tle doubt that the story to­mor­row would be ‘ day­light and the first de­bris from the miss­ing Malaysia plane has been spot­ted in the South China Sea’. This would then flow into the rhythm that th­ese sto­ries as­sume,” Quest wrote in one chap­ter of Van­ish­ing.

“I was wrong. The morn­ing would bring no de­bris, and the story was about to take some ex­tra­or­di­nary turns.”

Van­ish­ing, pub­lished by Berkley Books, New York, is a com­pre­hen­sive ac­count of the dra­matic, of­ten con­fus­ing, events that arose from the dis­ap­pear­ance of MH370, of­ten re­ferred to as one of the big­gest mys­ter­ies in avi­a­tion. The book, which came out on Mon­day ( in con­junc­tion with the se­cond an­niver­sary of MH370’ s dis­ap­pear­ance), also takes a rev­e­la­tory be­hind- thescenes look at how Quest dealt with be­com­ing the face of one of the decade’s big­gest news sto­ries.

“The core point of all this, that re­mains the most in­cred­i­ble, is that two years af­ter, we don’t know where the plane is with any de­gree of cer­tainty. Many peo­ple have dif­fer­ent the­o­ries, but ac­tu­ally, we have no idea what hap­pened in the cock­pit of that flight,” Quest says, speak­ing dur­ing an ex­clu­sive phone in­ter­view with Star2 from At­lanta, Ge­or­gia.

As CNN’s fore­most in­ter­na­tional busi­ness correspondent and host of the pop­u­lar show Quest Means Busi­ness, Quest is per­haps one of the world’s most recog­nis­able jour­nal­ists, hav­ing cov­ered many ma­jor events for CNN , from the death of Michael Jack­son to the mar­riage of Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton. An award- win­ning jour­nal­ist, he has in­ter­viewed di­verse guests rang­ing from His Ho­li­ness the Dalai Lama to Play­boy mag­a­zine founder Hugh Hefner.

In Van­ish­ing, Quest takes read­ers through the var­i­ous twists and turns of the MH370 saga, from the chaos and con­fu­sion aris­ing af­ter its dis­ap­pear­ance was dis­cov­ered, to the un­der­wa­ter search for it which in­volved the re­sources of sev­eral na­tions, and fi­nally, to the dis­cov­ery of the plane’s flap­eron on Re­union, France, in Septem­ber last year.

The book also cov­ers CNN’s ex­ten­sive cov­er­age of the in­ci­dent, in­clud­ing the ( in) fa­mous mo­ment when an­chor Don Lemon ad­dressed one viewer’s ques­tion if black holes could have caused the dis­ap­pear­ance!

“I’d cov­ered the whole is­sue of MH370 and had quite a huge amount of de­tail. About six months to a year after­ward, I re­alised I had enough re­search to put to­gether a book. And I was able to look at the dif­fer­ent aspects of the story in a greater, wider con­text,” Quest says.

“It was quite an or­deal be­cause it’s an ex­tremely com­pli­cated story, fraught with dif­fi­culty. And ten­sions still re­main very high in re­la­tion to it, par­tic­u­larly in China and Malaysia,” he adds, re­fer­ring to cov­er­ing the in­ci­dent as a jour­nal­ist.

Van­ish­ing also analy­ses the ac­tions of ev­ery­one in­volved in the disas­ter ( in­clud­ing the Malaysian Govern­ment and Malaysia Air­lines), with Quest of­fer­ing com­men­tary on how well ( or how badly) their ef­forts con

trib­uted. Also in­cluded are in­ter­views with Datuk Seri Hishamud­din Hus­sein, Act­ing Trans­port Min­is­ter at the time of the in­ci­dent, and then Malaysia Air­lines CEO Ah­mad Jauhari Yahya.

Ac­cord­ing to Quest, hav­ing to re- live his ex­pe­ri­ences of cov­er­ing the event for the book was a very in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You cer­tainly go back to square one, go­ing back through the var­i­ous re­ports and re­mem­ber­ing the in­ci­dents. For in­stance, when the fam­i­lies of the peo­ple on board were told by text that the plane had gone miss­ing, or we learnt that the plane had turned, and then con­tin­ued to fly for six or seven hours. It be­came even more in­cred­i­ble that all this had ever hap­pened,” Quest re­calls.

His chal­lenge writ­ing the book, Quest says, was mak­ing a lot of the tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion in­volved ac­ces­si­ble to the reader.

“This is not a book for geeks or avi­a­tion ex­perts. This is a book for or­di­nary peo­ple who have been fas­ci­nated by what hap­pened on board MH370 and want to know some­thing more about it,” Quest ex­plains.

In Van­ish­ing, Quest also gives his ac­count of how the MH370 story sud­denly took a per­sonal turn af­ter the pub­lic dis­cov­ered a selfie of Quest with Fariq Hamid, the air­craft’s co- pi­lot. It had been taken a few weeks be­fore MH370’ s dis­ap­pear­ance, while Quest had been in Malaysia to film an episode of his CNN show, Bri­tish Trav­eller.

This odd co­in­ci­dence, how­ever, had led many peo­ple to spec­u­late that CNN knew more about the MH370 in­ci­dent than they let on, Quest says.

“To have flown with him, and then have this selfie turn up in news­pa­pers and on­line, peo­ple ask­ing how much did we know about it? It was ex­tra­or­di­nary. You don’t nor­mally get that close to a news story be­fore it hap­pens.

“I re­mem­ber Hamid to be an en­gag­ing 27- year- old who was look­ing for­ward to get­ting mar­ried and fly­ing to in­ter­est­ing places. When I heard he per­ished a few weeks later on MH370, it was re­ally very sober­ing.”

Quest’s book also of­fers anal­y­sis of the pos­si­ble causes of the plane’s dis­ap­pear­ance as well as his own views on what ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

Un­like many avi­a­tion pun­dits, Quest does not be­lieve that the pi­lots were re­spon­si­ble, al­though he is keep­ing an open mind on the is­sue.

“There are a lot of ru­mours, and very few facts,” he points out.

Asked if he thinks an in­ci­dent like MH370’ s dis­ap­pear­ance could hap­pen again, Quest says it is pos­si­ble, adding that he wel­comes the new avi­a­tion safety reg­u­la­tions be­ing put in place to avoid this.

“If you look at the crash of Air France 447, it re­ported its po­si­tion four min­utes be­fore it crashed. Four min­utes! And it still took two years to find it. So the an­swer is the new rules com­ing in from the ICAO, which say the plane must re­port its po­si­tion ev­ery 15 min­utes. And if some­thing is go­ing wrong, it must im­me­di­ately re­port it ev­ery minute,” Quest says, re­fer­ring to the In­ter­na­tional Civil Air Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“I think those new rules aren’t due to come in un­til 2018. So I think there’s an ur­gency to get the equip­ment in and get the tech­nol­ogy work­ing.”

When asked about the re­cent de­bris found off the coasts of Re­union and Mozam­bique, Quest says he is op­ti­mistic – but cau­tious. Even if the de­bris is found to be part of the miss­ing air­liner, Quest says, we might not be able to learn much new in­for­ma­tion about the air­craft’s fate from them.

Ul­ti­mately, Quest says, there are ques­tions about MH370 that bother him to this day. One is about how MH370 had pur­port­edly made a U- turn on its course, fly­ing across Malaysia be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing from radar.

“The big­gest sin­gle ques­tion that has not been an­swered is why noth­ing was done on the night that the plane flew back across Malaysia. And if there is one is­sue, it’s how we have never been told by the Royal Malaysian Air Force why they failed to track the plane prop­erly. They said there would be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but we’ve never heard any­thing more,” Quest says.

“The big­gest smok­ing gun is why on that night, at two o’clock, the Royal Malaysian Air Force data op­er­a­tor did not send a plane up to see why MH370 was go­ing off course. That for me is the great­est mys­tery.”

— IBRAHIM MO­HTAR/ The Star

Look­ing back: Apart from tak­ing read­ers through the in­ci­dent, Quest’s new book also analy­ses and com­ments on the ac­tions of ev­ery­one in­volved in the disas­ter, in­clud­ing the Malaysian Govern­ment.

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