'MH370 was in cruising position' [NSTTV]

KUALA LUMPUR: As Aslam Basha Khan gazed at the waves carrying debris believed to be from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 washing up on Reunion Island, a sense of melancholy swept over him.

"There is no way anyone could survive the ocean," the former MH370 Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) investigator said, reminiscing about the powerful waves that had scattered the debris of the missing flight about approximately 500 days since it vanished.

Flight MH370, with 239 crew and passengers en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, vanished from radar screens in the early hours of March 8, 2014, remaining one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history.

Aslam, tasked with investigating all 32 pieces of debris found, recounted how the discovery of the first piece forced him to confront the grim reality of the aircraft's fate.

In the New Straits Times talk show "Beyond The Headlines", Aslam said that the damage to the debris indicated that the aircraft was in a cruising position and was not being prepared for landing.

"Zooming in on the right flaperon and right outboard flap, these two were sitting side by side on the right-hand wing, and during our investigation, we found some damage on the right-hand outboard flap.

"It's on the in-board side, meaning it was closer towards the wing route area.

"Similar damage was also seen on the flaperon in roughly around the same area.

"Our examination, together with colleagues at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), had indicated that such damage could occur only if the flap was in the retracted position, which is when the airplane is flying in cruise mode.

"In conclusion, this aircraft was not being prepared to perform a landing."

Aslam has refuted claims of a controlled ditching occurring as evidence indicated that the flaps of the plane were retracted.

He said the pieces of debris were found within the drift pattern that oceanographers had plotted, taking into account weather patterns and historical data.

He also detailed how the investigators tried to confirm whether the parts were indeed of MH370.

Out of the 32 pieces found, three were confirmed to be from MH370, seven were "almost certain", eight "highly likely", three "likely" and 11 not identifiable.

"The first item that was found was the right flaperon. It's a component from the right-hand side wing, a rear part of the wing.

"This was found almost 500 days after the accident and it was found at Reunion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.

"This flaperon was shipped to France and it was reviewed by the French investigators together with our Malaysian investigators.

"After looking through at some manufacturing markings that were there on the flaperon and several other features, it was confirmed that this was from 9 MMRO, which is the registration number of MH370."

Aslam said normally, when airplanes were manufactured, they were one big part made up of smaller assemblies and the bigger part would have a data plate that identified clearly that the item was from a particular position on the airplane.

When that is not available on the debris, he said, investigators could always look at the manufacturing markings on the sub-assemblies.

"Many sub-assemblies make up the component, so in the case of the flaperon, the markings that were on the sub assemblies allowed us to determine that it was manufactured for the aircraft."

Underwater searches for the plane in the Indian Ocean have covered 120,000 sq km and cost about RM605 million.

The search was suspended in January 2017.

In 2018, Ocean Infinity embarked on a three-month no cure, no fee search covering another 112,000 sq km in the southern Indian Ocean.

It concluded without any new discovery.

Last week, Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Malaysia was ready to engage with Ocean Infinity again for another no cure, no fee proposal to find the missing airplane and provide closure for the families.

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