Malaysian Airlines, whose flight MH370 has strangely disappeared, is a national flag-carrier in the broadest sense — a symbol, along with the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Proton car, of its home nation’s aspirations as an Asian Tiger. Hived off in the early 1970s from the former Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, it became, in 1984, one of the first state-owned Asian enterprises to be privatised — and the young banker from London who sweated for ten months to write its prospectus for flotation was none other than your humble columnist.
The airline had every appearance of a modern international business, including a Harvard-educated chief executive. But my assignment was made challenging by a culture of fear and whispering which seemed to pervade the whole country under the rule of its then prime minister, the notably anti-British Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Speaking plain truth was not encouraged — especially for a British expat — and I recall an uncomfortable afternoon in an airless boardroom when almost every interesting fact I had inserted in the draft prospectus was struck out again by my own local colleagues.
It’s possible that I even tried to include an account of the crash of flight MH684 from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in December 1983 — an incident which involved no fatalities but caused national embarrassment when it was revealed that the pilot had taken over the controls in a heavy rainstorm on the final approach, ignoring instrument warnings, and slammed the plane down in a swamp a mile short of the runway, to the surprise of nearby villagers. The story of MH370 looks far more sinister. But whatever its secrets, don’t expect the Malaysian authorities to offer them readily to the world’s media.
Some other planes, besides Flight MH370, which have disappeared without trace
- A Boeing 727 cargo plane that was being prepared for a flight in Luana, Angola, on 25 May 2003. It took off without permission and when last seen was headed south-westwards over the Atlantic.
- An Antonov An-72 cargo plane with a crew of five on a flight from Port Bouet, Côte d’Ivoire to Rundu Airport, Namibia, on 22 December 1997.
- A de Havilland Twin Otter operated by Merpati Nusantara Airlines with four crew and ten passengers on an internal Indonesian flight from Birma to Satartacik on 10 January 1995.