'MH370 costs peanuts compared to peace steps'
Published:  Apr 10, 2014 11:00 AM
Updated: 1:47 PM

MH370 Compared to worldwide peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East for example, the cost to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is immeasurably small and still well worth it, acting Transport Minister and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

In an interview with BBC News Asia today, Hishammuddin was asked if he expected each country of the multi-nation search team to pick up their own bill for the costly operations to find the Boeing 777. He shrugged off the question.

"How much is Ukraine costing everybody?” he asked interviewer Jonah Fisher, and paused for effect when no answer returned.

"How much has it been for Syria, which is still unfolding... Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq...

"How much is that costing us? Not only in dollars and cents but also in lives.

"Here... it is peanuts, trying to find what happened to a plane with innocent people onboard?"

With 26 countries contributing planes, ships, submarines and satellites to the international effort, news agency Reuters this week wrote that MH370 operations, now just over a month old, could end up being the costliest in aviation history. It estimated that at least US$44 million (RM143 million) has already been spent.

The figure is already about equal to the official 32 million euros (RM143 million) spent in searches lasting several months spread over a two-year time frame for Air France’s Flight AF447, which crashed into the Mid-Atlantic in 2009, it said. BBC has also reported roughly the same costs.

But Hishammuddin reiterated that people shouldn’t mind, really.

"Closer to home, how much money has been paid to patrol these rocks in the South China Sea...," he said, probably referring to the disputed Spratley Islands, which are claimed by a few countries.

"Compare that with the cost of SAR (search and rescue operations). Let’s put it in perspective," he added.

Hishammuddin also batted away other criticism, including that it was Malaysia’s slow response that has now made the search more difficult in the Indian Ocean as the batteries of MH370's black box were reportedly dying out.

"Air France found their black box after two years, so all these battery life thing will not hold water with me.

"And all these other speculations with regard to scrambling of aircraft is just trying to apportion blame to Malaysia’s defence capability... I will leave it for later to answer.

"But right now, I think, we have done well to be where we are right now," he said.

'Are you going to shoot down a commercial airliner?'

Hishammuddin, however, fumbled for an answer when asked if he was embarrassed that the country’s military jets could not have stopped the Boeing 777 when it flew back over Malaysia on March 8.

"If you scramble the (jet fighter) Sukhois, are you really going to shoot down a commercial airliner?” Hishammuddin said, before backtracking a little.

"Thats why TUDM (Royal Malaysian Air Force) said though they know it was a commercial airline, we didn’t know it was the MH370. And all that will come out in the enquiries anyway," he added, and returned to his usual smiling posture.

At the end, Hishammuddin reiterated his cautiously optimistic stand.

"I know there will be answers, I know we will find the plane but it’s just a matter of when," he told BBC .

RMAF sent search aircraft

Later today, CNN reported that the Royal Malaysia Air Force (RMAF) had indeed sent its search aircraft on 8am the day of Flight MH370's disappearance but did not inform authorities until three days later.

Quoting a senior Malaysian government official and another source involved in the investigation, CNN stated that aircraft were sent out before authorities could corroborate data indicating the Boeing 777 turned back westward.

The unnamed source stated RMAF had "not informed the Department of Civil Aviation or search and rescue (SAR) operations until three days later, March 11".

It further reports Flight MH 370 disappeared from military radar for some 120 nautical miles after it crossed back over Peninsular Malaysia.

"Based on available data, this means the plane must have dipped in altitude to between 4,000 and 5,000  feet," claimed the senior government official.

Also on the final words "Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero" spoken to Subang air traffic control before Flight MH370 disappeared from radar, CNN claimed these were spoken by pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad.

It reported "there was no indication of stress" and "no third-party voices" heard.

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