The battery of an underwater locator beacon had expired more than a year before the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished last March, the first comprehensive report into the mystery has revealed.
Apart from that anomaly, the detailed report devoted page after page to describe the complete normality of the flight, shedding little light on aviation’s biggest mystery, which began a year ago yesterday.
“The sole objective of the investigation is the prevention of future accidents or incidents, and not for the purpose to apportion blame or liability,” the report said.
The significance of the expired battery on the beacon of the Flight Data Recorder was not immediately apparent, except indicating that searchers would have had less chance of locating the aircraft in the Indian Ocean, where it is believed to have crashed, even if they were in its vicinity.
However, the report said that the battery on the locator beacon of the cockpit voice recorder was working.
Even though the battery on the beacon had expired, the instrument itself was functioning properly and would have in theory captured all the flight information.
The two instruments are critical because they record cockpit conversation and flight data, leading up to the end of the flight.
The 584-page report by an independent investigation group went into minute details of the crew’s lives – their medical and financial records, their training before detailing the aircraft’s service record – as well as maintenance schedule, weather, communications systems and other aspects that showed nothing unusual except for the one previously undisclosed fact of the battery’s expiry date.
It said that according to maintenance records, the battery on the beacon attached to the Flight Data Recorder expired in December 2012, but because of a computer data error it went unnoticed by maintenance crews.
It said: “While it is possible the battery will operate past the expiry date, it is not guaranteed.”
The report gave insight into flight Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s physical and mental well-being, saying he had no known history of apathy, anxiety or irritability. “There were no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict or family stresses,” it said.
It also said there were “no behavioural signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse” by the captain, his first officer and the cabin crew.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott later said the search for MH370 will not end if the scouring of the current search area comes up empty. Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney that the search “can’t go on forever, but as long as there are reasonable leads, the search will go on”.
He said if the current search is unsuccessful, “there’s another 60,000 square kilometres that we intend to search”.