Transcript—2GB Sydney Live

Interview

DCI027/2016

20 December 2016

Subjects: Search for missing flight MH370

Michael Mclaren: I thought we'd have a chat to Darren Chester, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. He joins me now. Darren, Merry Christmas, good afternoon.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon Michael.

Michael Mclaren: Obviously, MH370 more than two years now missing. The search has been expensive, it has been extensive, and now the report is well, in fact, we've been looking in the wrong area, we should be further north. Just how long will the search continue, Darren?

Darren Chester: It is almost three years, Michael, you're right and it has been a search which by aviation history standards has been the biggest ever undertaken. It has cost in the order of $200 million, the majority of which has come from our support from the Chinese and Malaysian governments. The Australian Government has put a great deal of effort into the underwater search but most of the funding has come from Malaysia and China in that regard. The plan has always been, sort of for the past 18 months, to do 120,000 square kilometre search area; that was the area that was identified as the most highly-probably location for the aircraft through the available evidence we had at the time, and we are not very far away from finishing that 120,000 square kilometres. So we're looking to finish that part of the search in, I think, early January at this stage if the weather stays fine, and the agreement between Malaysia and China and the Australia Government was unless there's any credible evidence available to us at that time that identifies the specific location of the aircraft, then we would suspend the search at that time.

So, that's where we sit at the moment. It has been a search of epic proportions; it has really tested the endurance of the people involved. Their searching in water which is up to six kilometres deep and 2000 kilometres off the West Australian coast in some of the most inhospitable seas in the world. So, it has been a tough and arduous search and unfortunately for the families of those missing, it has been unsuccessful at this stage.

Michael Mclaren: Obviously, leading up to Christmas, it would be acutely difficult for the families of those still registered as missing. Although, I suppose people would question the need to continue the search considering, one, the costs—and we've just had MYEFO, et cetera, come out—but also the lack of evidence thus far found.

I mean, how important is it, though— I mean to counter that—how important is it from our point of view and the airline industry's point of view and others that the wreckage be found so that the evidence can be worked through and questions can be answered?

Darren Chester: Well, it is enormously important from that perspective and human nature is we don't like mysteries and this is a mystery of epic proportions and also a tragedy of equally epic proportions. So, for the family and friends of the 239 people on board, this has been an ongoing nightmare for them. For the people involved in the search effort, you know, we have got the world's best researchers, analysts working on this, it is not only from our own ATSB, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, we have brought in experts from around the world to validate the search effort. We need to keep in mind that it is quite a limited amount of evidence available and data available to them in the work they have done and they have had to try and work their way through what is a very difficult problem to calculate the aircraft's last movements, last known movements, and then try to figure out where it may be in the ocean as a result.

So, it has been a very difficult search and it really has tested the limits of science and technology, and human endurance as well. So, it has, by aviation history standards, it has been the largest search ever undertaken and obviously it is frustrating and disappointing for everyone involved that we haven't been able to locate the aircraft at this stage. We remain hopeful that these last few thousands square kilometres may yield a result but we need to prepare ourselves for the likelihood or the prospect that we won't find MH370 in that 120,000 square kilometres.

Michael Mclaren: Yeah, exactly. I mean, there's a lot of armchair experts in this but there is also a lot of people with quite a bit of experience in the aviation industry, they've been saying for a long time, in fact, that we've all been looking in the wrong area. I mean, what's your response to them in light of the fact that basically the ATSB and CSIRO reports suggest in fact that's true; we should be looking in a different spot?

Darren Chester: I am not going to second guess the experts in that regard, Michael. The information that they had available to them and the work they've done has indicated that they're in the vicinity of where the aircraft went down. Now, obviously, if we don't find the aircraft in that 120,000 square kilometre search area, we are open to the criticism that you had looked in the wrong place. Well, if it is not there it must be somewhere else and that's a pretty obvious assumption to make.

Michael Mclaren: That's evidence, yeah.

Darren Chester: But where is the next place you look becomes pretty difficult. My involvement with the Malaysian Government and the Chinese Government in July this year when we met in Malaysia was around that point, that unless there is credible evidence which is available to us at the time that identifies a specific location of the aircraft, we would suspend it at 120,000 square kilometres. And we need to keep in mind that we don't want to be raising false hope among the family and friends if, in fact, we don't know where the aircraft is once we complete that 120,000 square kilometre area and it would be appropriate to suspend the search at that time.

Of course we still remain hopeful— we've got people at sea right now doing that underwater search effort. They have located missing shipwrecks from over 100 years ago, they have found oil drums on the bottom of the ocean floor, but they haven't been able to find the missing aircraft, which is obviously what we are all most interested in.

Michael Mclaren: Indeed. Well it's, as you say, one of the great mysteries at this point in time. Let's hope before too long it can be solved. Darren Chester, for your time this afternoon, thank you.

Darren Chester: All the best for Christmas, Michael.