KUALA LUMPUR – Japan has requested to be part of the international panel Malaysia is setting up to investigate the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Tuesday.
“We welcome their participation. Then we will have a panel of experts that is transparent, that’s credible and it involves practically the whole world,” Hishammuddin, who is also acting Transport Minister, told reporters after meeting with Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera.
The Malaysian Cabinet approved the panel last week to probe the mystery behind the disappearance of Flight MH370 on March 8 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew members.
The panel includes representatives from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the U.K. Air Accident Investigation Branch, China’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Department, the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, along with representatives from Singapore and Malaysia and companies Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Inmarsat.
Heading the panel is Kok Soo Chon, former director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation.
The team will be split into three groups. The airworthiness group will look into issues such as maintenance records, structure and systems. The operational group will examine flight recorders, operations and meteorology, while the medical and human factor group will probe into issues such as psychology, pathology and survival factors.
But the team will not cover the criminal aspects, which are under the purview of the police.
Japan has joined other countries including the United States, Australia and China in looking for the plane since the early days when search was focused on the South China Sea, where the plane was last detected on civilian radar.
Military radar and satellite data later tracked the plane making a U-turn. Experts concluded that the flight “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean. Australia is leading the search there while Japan is among countries that have sent aircraft to assist.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia is in the midst of discussing financial arrangements with Australia now that search operation is entering into the second phase focused on the ocean floor.
“We need to be fair to Australia. It’s important now because in the past we haven’t talk about finance but we’re now going into deep sea search. I want to have some understanding in terms of funding for assets,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday that the aerial search would end soon as it is “highly unlikely” any wreckage will be found on the sea surface after 52 days.
Asked on what is the estimated cost, Hishammuddin said, “Cost depends on how we are going to proceed . . . There are a very limited number of countries and companies that have the sophisticated equipment that we need for the search.”
He has enlisted the help of Jean-Paul Troadec, who led France’s air accident investigation bureau during the search for the ill-fated Air France Flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, to come out with the list of assets they need.
Troadec has been appointed as Hishammuddin’s “personal advisor” due to his experience.
“He will decide what assets we need and then we will know the cost that will incur,” Hishammuddin said.
On a claim by an Australian exploration company, GeoResonance, that it has found possible wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane, he said authorities are working “to assess the credibility of this information.”
GeoResonance spokesman David Pope had been reported in various media as saying that his company found wreckage that could belong to MH370 in the Bay of Bengal, 5,000 km away from the current search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
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