Missing MH370: Flying into a crisis

Missing MH370: Flying into a crisis
Members from various media agencies covering a press conference on the missing MH370 by Najib at Sama Sama Hotel.

The mystery of the missing MH370 has thrown Malaysia into the international limelight, calling into question its management of the situation.

 

Over the past week, Malaysia's public image has taken a battering internationally over its handling of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared from commercial air traffic control radar at 1.30am on March 8 and vanished.

At first, when news of the missing plane with 239 (including 12 crew) on board flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing broke, there was the usual shock, concern and hope of finding it - or least the debris.

But day after day, with no sign of the plane or debris, no clues or answers, and lack of information coupled with conflicting statements by the Malaysian authorities, the mood turned to anger, ridicule and frustration.

As the bizarre scenario unfolded day by day, of the flight possibly making a turn back, of the transponder possibly being deliberately switched off, and of the plane being diverted and flown towards the Indian Ocean, a more complex picture than what was initially thought started to emerge.

It took a week before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was finally able to confirm for a fact yesterday that the transponder of the Boeing 777 aircraft had indeed been deliberately switched off and the plane was intentionally steered away from its original flight path by someone on board.

Was Malaysia right in the early days to give out only drips of information as it managed the crisis until it got the real facts? That certainly did not stop speculation and confusion.

Crisis expert Vivian Lines, chairman of Asia Pacific Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says that in crisis training exercises a decade ago, the first 24 hours are often referred to as a "Golden Hour" because the airline could use the time to assemble its teams, understand the situation and then control the initial statement to the media.

"Today, with the immediacy of social media, a 'Golden Hour' has become a 'Golden Nanosecond'," he says.

"When Asiana flight 214 crashed upon landing in San Francisco last year, there were pictures on Twitter in less than a minute and the airline was never able to get ahead of the news.

"Malaysia Airlines was fortunate. Manage­ment had the ability to control that first announcement. There was no burning wreckage to be tweeted around the world. While they had to wait to see if the flight would reappear on radar or notification would come that it had landed somewhere, they could use the time wisely, presumably to gather their crisis teams and plan for whatever announcement they needed to make."

When the first announcement created an immediate viral response, MAS was ready, he says.

"Their web blacksite was activated and they were prepared for the storm of media, anguished relatives, and netizen journalists that surround any major incident.

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