SA could pro­vide key clues to MH370 puz­zle

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - ARTHI GOPI AND TANYA WATERWORTH

ONE OF the great­est avi­a­tion mys­ter­ies could soon be un­rav­elled with in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by South Africans.

Malaysia Air­lines Flight 370 (MH370), car­ry­ing 239 peo­ple, dis­ap­peared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Bei­jing in March 2014.

Yes­ter­day, an air­line sup­port group told fam­i­lies of the vic­tims that the hi-tech ship which left Dur­ban this week would be al­lowed to re­sume the search. Aus­tralia, China and Malaysia ended a fruit­less search last Jan­uary.

An e-mail sent from the MH Fam­ily Sup­port Cen­tre said the govern­ment had ac­cepted an of­fer by the com­pany, Ocean In­fin­ity, which owns Se­abed Con­struc­tor, to re­sume the search on a “no cure, no fee” ba­sis, mean­ing the com­pany will only get paid if they find the plane.

A govern­ment spokesper­son de­clined to con­firm that an e-mail had been sent to fam­i­lies but said more de­tails would be forth­com­ing.

The hi-tech ocean ves­sel, car­ry­ing a team of in­ter­na­tional “ocean ex­plor­ers”, headed from Dur­ban to­wards the South In­dian Ocean to scour the se­abed for signs of the plane.

Clues pro­vided by South Africans could prove vi­tal in nar­row­ing down where the plane could have gone down.

US ad­ven­turer and lawyer Blaine Gib­son, who launched his own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the MH370 mys­tery and tracked down numer­ous pieces of plane de­bris off Africa’s east coast, said South Africans may well play a key role in solv­ing one of the big­gest avi­a­tion mys­ter­ies should the miss­ing plane be lo­cated.

On March 8, 2014, an hour into the flight over the South China Sea, voice con­tact was lost. The 227 pas­sen­gers from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and 12 Malaysian crew mem­bers have not been heard of since.

Liam Lot­ter, from Wart­burg in KZN, found de­bris on a Mozam­bique beach dur­ing his 2016 De­cem­ber hol­i­days, which later proved to be from the MH370 flight, while Neels Kruger found more de­bris be­long­ing to the plane on a beach in Mos­sel Bay.

Gib­son came to Dur­ban in Au­gust 2016, where he met Lot­ter and Kruger and the trio scoured the KZN coast for four days for more de­bris, but with no fur­ther suc­cess.

Speak­ing from his home in the US this week, Gib­son said he had been on board the Se­abed Con­struc­tor while it was in Dur­ban for a few days over the new year, one of the last ports it will call on en route to the search zone.

“The de­bris found by the South Africans has al­ready proved to be very valu­able in nar­row­ing down the search. Thanks to them, the search is be­ing re­newed.

“Fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of the plane, the of­fi­cial search cov­ered a very large area and was too far south. All the de­bris found on the African coast­line in­di­cates the crash site is fur­ther north.

“I vis­ited the ship (Se­abed Con­struc­tor) when it was in Dur­ban port and was very im­pressed… with the tech­nol­ogy on board and her crew.

“Ocean In­fin­ity has bet­ter in­for­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy than in the first search and they have the best chance of find­ing the crash site and the black box which would tell us what hap­pened. I hope they find it, the fam­i­lies need an­swers,” said Gib­son.

Dur­ing his search for clues, Gib­son found de­bris from the miss­ing plane on a sand­bar off the Mozam­bique coast and on the Mada­gas­car coast.

He said an Aus­tralian oceanog­ra­pher, who had done a drift anal­y­sis, had told him the most likely places de­bris would wash up would be on the eastern coast­lines of Mada­gas­car and South Africa, par­tic­u­larly Dur­ban.

Yes­ter­day, Lot­ter said he had re­mained in con­tact with Gib­son and was ex­cited to hear about the new search.

“I am def­i­nitely ex­cited to see what hap­pens next. It has been a cou­ple of years and the fam­i­lies of the miss­ing pas­sen­gers need some clo­sure.”

While the gov­ern­ments of Malaysia, China and Aus­tralia called off the of­fi­cial search in Jan­uary last year, which had been de­scribed as one of the most ex­ten­sive and costli­est in avi­a­tion his­tory, the new search was ex­pected to be con­firmed in the com­ing week.

The ex­haus­tive hunt was es­ti­mated to have cost in the re­gion of R2.1 bil­lion.

Now Ocean In­fin­ity is await­ing the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of a con­tract from the Malaysian govern­ment.

An Ocean In­fin­ity com­pany spokesper­son said: “Ocean In­fin­ity is hope­ful of re­ceiv­ing the final con­tract award for the re­sump­tion of the search for MH370 over the com­ing days. With a rel­a­tively nar­row weather win­dow, we are moving the ves­sel, Se­abed Con­struc­tor, to­wards the vicin­ity of the pos­si­ble search zone.

“This is de­signed to save time should the con­tract award be forth­com­ing, as hoped. We will con­firm as and when the con­tract is awarded and the search can re­sume.”

A Dur­ban Port con­trol spokesper­son said the Se­abed Con­struc­tor ar­rived at the port “for cleaning at Dor­mac float­ing dock”.

None of the pas­sen­gers on the doomed flight were South African.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieved some­one may have de­lib­er­ately switched off the transpon­der of the Boe­ing 777 be­fore di­vert­ing it over the In­dian Ocean.

PIC­TURE: AP

Well wishes are writ­ten on a wall of hope dur­ing a re­mem­brance event for Malaysia Air­lines Flight 370 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in March 2016. The Malaysian govern­ment has ap­proved a new at­tempt to find the wreck­age of the plane.

PIC­TURE: SWIRE SE­ABED

The Se­abed Con­struc­tor, a hi-tech ship which left Dur­ban this week to search for flight MH370.

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