MH370, one year on: 'Locator beacon battery had expired a year before disappearance'

As the bereaved kins of passengers aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 marked one year since the plane's disappearance on Sunday, the interim report on the missing jet revealed an inconvenient truth about the locator beacon 's battery having expired way before than expected.

Last Updated: Mar 08, 2015, 15:59 PM IST
MH370, one year on: 'Locator beacon battery had expired a year before disappearance'

Kuala Lumpur: As the bereaved kins of passengers aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 marked one year since the plane's disappearance on Sunday, the interim report on the missing jet revealed an inconvenient truth about the locator beacon 's battery having expired way before than expected.

The battery of the locator beacon for the plane's data recorder had expired more than a year before the plane vanished on March 8, 2014, the report says.

The information was revealed in an interim report into MH370 disappearance, that wa spublished on the first anniversary of its disappearance. The report, has however failed to bring up any new clues about the plane and a major chunk of it describes how the flight was otherwise completely normal.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014, when at 1:19 am it went off the radar.

Investigators have concluded that the plane veered from its designated path before disappearing.

Despite an exhaustive search for the plane, no trace of it has been found. In late January, Malaysia's government formally declared the incident an accident and said all those on board were presumed dead.

The significance of the expired battery in the beacon of the plane's flight data recorder was not immediately apparent, except indicating that searchers would have had lesser chance of locating the aircraft in the Indian Ocean, where it is believed to have crashed, even if they were in its vicinity. However, the report said the battery in the locator beacon of the cockpit voice recorder was working.

"The sole objective of the investigation is the prevention of future accidents or incidents, and not for the purpose to apportion blame or liability," the report said.

Even though the beacon's battery had expired, the instrument itself was functioning properly and would have in theory captured all the flight information.

The two instruments — commonly known as "black boxes" — are critical in any crash because they record cockpit conversations and flight data through the end of a flight.

The 584-page report by a 19-member independent investigation group went into minute details about the crew's lives, including their medical and financial records and training. It also detailed the aircraft's service record, as well as the weather, communications systems and other aspects of the flight. Nothing unusual was revealed, except for the previously undisclosed fact of the battery's expiration date.

The report said that according to maintenance records, the battery on the beacon attached to the flight data recorder expired in December 2012, but because of a computer data error, it went unnoticed by maintenance crews. "There is some extra margin in the design to account for battery life variability and ensure that the unit will meet the minimum requirement," it said.

"However, once beyond the expiry date, the (battery's) effectiveness decreases so it may operate, for a reduced time period until it finally discharges," the report said. While it is possible the battery will operate past the expiration date, "it is not guaranteed that it will work or that it would meet the 30-day minimum requirement," it said.

The report gave insight into the physical and mental well-being of the flight's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, saying he had no known history of apathy, anxiety or irritability. "There were no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict or family stresses," it said.

It also said there were "no behavioral signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse" by Zaharie, his first officer or the cabin crew.

Financial checks also showed nothing abnormal about their spending patterns. It said Zaharie held several bank accounts and two national trust funds. He had two houses and three vehicles, but there was no record of him having a life insurance policy.

The co-pilot, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, had two savings accounts and a national trust fund. He owned two cars and "spent money on the upkeep" of his cars. "He does not have much savings in his bank account. He has a life insurance policy," the report said.

It also said 221 kilograms (487 pounds) of lithium ion batteries packed by Motorola Solutions in Malaysia's Penang state didn't go through security screening at Penang airport. The shipment was inspected physically by the airline cargo personnel and went through customs inspection and clearance before it was sealed and left Penang a day before the flight. At the Kuala Lumpur airport, it was loaded onto the plane without any additional security screening.

The report said the batteries were not regulated as dangerous goods. There were 99 shipments of lithium ion batteries on Malaysia Airlines flights to Beijing from January to May last year, it added.

Meanwhile, family members of the passengers and crew aboard the plane marked the anniversary. Voice 370, a support group for the relatives, hosted a "Day of Remembrance" at a mall in Kuala Lumpur with songs, poems and prayers.

"It is important to highlight to the public that we still don't have any answers and that we must pursue the search," said Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on the plane.

"The lack of answers and definitive proof - such as aircraft wreckage - has made this more difficult to bear," Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak said in a statement. "Together with our international partners, we have followed the little evidence that exists. Malaysia remains committed to the search, and hopeful that MH370 will be found."

With Agency Inputs