Sleepless over MH370

Sleepless over MH370
In the limelight: Azharuddin was thrust into the media glare as journalists from around the world grilled him.

Work for Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman had been fairly routine until the wee hours of March 8, when a MAS airliner went missing with 239 people on board.

Until the MH370 incident, the biggest problems Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman ever had to deal with were planes skidding the runway.

A veteran with over 39 years experience in the aviation industry, the DCA director-general admits that the closest he got to major plane accidents worldwide was through press reports.

"We didn't have any big accidents (here)," he says.

"My experience was more local. Small aircraft, helicopter accidents and commercial aircraft incidents...Like the AirAsia flight veering off the Kuching runway in 2011. That kind of thing."

Though an accident investigator by training, Azharuddin says he didn't take charge of investigations, adding that they were often left to teams within the DCA.

When a Twin Otter crashed in Kudat killing two and injuring five people last year, he visited the site as an inspector but did not take over investigations.

In his seven years as DCA chief, Azharuddin's work was fairly routine, mostly managing local airspace and flight safety.

All that changed on March 8 when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared off the east coast and later over the Indian Ocean. Azharuddin suddenly became one of the country's leading figures on the plane, and has had to face a world that desperately searched for answers.

"It (the incident) took everyone by surprise. It was perplexing...There was not much for us to work on except for data and information from Inmarsat," he recalls.

Sleepless nights were common, with Azharuddin, who says that he spent nearly every waking moment on finding MH370.

He was suddenly thrust into the world media glare as journalists from around the world grilled him over the missing plane.

The task of coordinating an international search-and-rescue coalition from within Malaysia also fell to him.

He would also find himself away from his family for two months, and would only get to see them again the month after that.

In those early days, Azharuddin says the authorities had to work with what little information they had and even then, not all of it was credible.

Communication with the global public, he shares, was another problem as there was scarce information for a global media hungry for answers.

He remembers being ridiculed by media agencies around the world over his reference to Italian footballer Mario Balotelli. In explaining the background of the two Iranian fake passport holders, he had used the reference to state that looks had nothing to do with nationalities.

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