KUALA LUMPUR/SYDNEY - Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said yesterday that an expired battery in the underwater locator beacon of the "black box" flight data recorder on missing Flight MH370 would have made no difference in the search for the plane.
Lawyers acting for some of the families of those on board said earlier that the fact the battery had not been replaced - revealed in a weekend report on the anniversary of MH370's disappearance - could be key in any legal action against the airline.
MH370 vanished shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing early on March 8 last year, becoming one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
A 584-page interim report into the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200ER, released on Sunday, said the beacon battery for the flight data recorder had expired in December 2012 and was not replaced. The beacon is designed to send a signal if a crash occurs in water.
MAS said in a statement yesterday that a similar beacon was also installed with the solid state cockpit voice recorder (SSCVR) and its battery life was still good.
"The SSCVR battery would have been transmitting for 30 days upon activation when immersed in water," MAS said.
Malaysia's Transport Ministry said in a statement that it was reviewing the interim report and pledged to take "stern action", without giving further details.
"In no manner does the data point to how or why MH370 went missing," the statement added.
But analysts and next-of-kin are not convinced by MAS' statement.
"I hope the international aviation body punishes MAS for non-compliance with regard to the expired battery," said Lim Wee Hoon, a Malaysian national whose brother-in-law was aboard.
She called the report part of a continuing Malaysian "cover-up".
The battery discovery "raises issues over the integrity of maintenance" at the carrier, said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor for Flightglobal magazine.
"Did that play a role in the inability to find the plane? We really don't know if that was a factor," he said.
United States law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, which is representing around 20 families, had said the expired battery was "potentially very significant" in determining compensation if it had hurt the search for the missing plane.
The oversight was blamed on a failure to properly update a computer system in the engineering department of MAS, Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation said in Sunday's report.
"The airline, which allowed its crew and plane to fly with expired batteries on critical equipment, continues to reject offering any kind of meaningful settlement to the families without them first proving the losses they suffered, without any actual evidence of a crash," Justin Green, Kreindler & Kreindler aviation attorney, said in an e-mail to Reuters.
"The airline...even more clearly now may be responsible for the unsuccessful search for this plane."
In January, MAS officially declared the disappearance of MH370 an accident, clearing the way for the airline to pay compensation to victims' relatives while the search for the plane goes on.
Investigators believe the plane, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, was flown thousands of miles off course before eventually crashing into the ocean off Australia.
The search, which has turned up nothing so far, could be wound up in May, after Australia's Deputy Prime Minister said last week that discussions were under way between Australia, China and Malaysia on whether to call it off soon.
However, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Chinese government said they remained committed to the search. Most of the passengers were from China.