In the scramble to find missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Chinese government’s insistence on being the first to find evidence has led the international search effort to chase after unrelated debris, false positive radio signals, and other signs that have frustrated the search and wasted valuable time, the New York Times reports.
In the more than one month since Flight 370 disappeared, the Chinese government has told the international community that it is investing its top efforts into finding the plane and its passengers, more than half of whom are Chinese citizens. Both Chinese government officials and Chinese state-controlled media have been heavily critical of other governments, more often than not Malaysia, for slowing down the search and not divulging sufficient information to the collaborating nations involved in the search. Chinese travel agencies have boycotted Malaysia Airlines, and newspapers like the South China Morning Post wrote reports tying the Malaysian government to local witch doctors in Kuala Lumpur who had “joined” the search.
The Times notes, however, that American, Australian, and other international officials are saying anonymously that China is a bigger nuisance to the search than Malaysia. The Chinese government, for example, announced early on that it had found debris matching the colors of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. The debris, sighted on satellites, turned out to be unrelated fishing equipment, and the search for those items took valuable time out of searching for clues related to the flight.
Similarly, Chinese media announced earlier this month that the vessel Haixun 01 had found radar signals similar to those of a flight recorder or black box, prompting Australian and American officials to send over personnel and equipment to the area the Chinese highlighted. The Times reveals that the equipment the Chinese appeared to be using the catch the signals was easily identified as too weak to hear the signals China alleged it was picking up, causing international search groups to distrust the claim and slowly shift outside of the area China had delineated for search, instead moving north to aid an Australian vessel that had claimed to identify similar pings.
Given the lack of responses from the area the Australian ship identified, searchers have concluded that the battery on the plane’s black box has since died, possibly in the time it took to respond to the Chinese claim, dismiss it, and move into the more verifiable search area.
“China’s rush to be first upset others involved in the search – not least because the Chinese turned out to be wrong,” the Times notes, citing several sources that tell the paper they are much less likely to believe a claim from Chinese searchers in the future. First in line to criticize the Chinese government: Malaysia, the target of much public criticism from China. The Times notes the Malaysian government missed no chance to criticize China for having “wasted the time of other nations looking for the missing Boeing 777-200.”
The search has currently stagnated. With the transmissions believed to be from a black box having disappeared for days, search operation leader Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston ordered the deployment of an American Navy submarine drone, the Bluefin-21, Monday. The Bluefin, which uses sonar to identify the size of objects underwater, found nothing significant during its first six-hour trip underwater, according to USA Today. The trip was cut short by the robot’s own safety mechanism, however – the robot aborted its mission and returned to the surface after reaching 15,000 feet above sea level before the water pressure had an opportunity to destroy it.
The U.S. Navy announced that the Bluefin-21 would be deployed again in the near future as the search teams wait for the weather to clear. The underwater drone strategy will continue until new leads surface, or new information unrelated to the underwater search directs teams elsewhere in the southwestern Indian Ocean.