The handling of the case of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 says a lot about the differences between East and West – but right now as the search goes on in the South Indian Ocean I can’t help but feel that the Malaysians are in a state of thinking ‘What did we do wrong?’

Some accusations are of course (1) Malaysian officials delayed release of information (2)  released wrong information (3) were too proud and delayed seeking immediate foreign help and (4)  delayed a rigorous examination of the circumstances surrounding the pilot and co-pilot.

Any one of those actions could have been crucial but the last bit, where they showed deference to the families of the pilots is perhaps more typical of the Asian way.

Had this accident happened to a British aircraft the media would have camped outside the houses of both Captain and co-pilot almost from the time the aircraft was reported missing.  The families would have spoken.  The media would have moved on – unless of course that is where the problem was.

Yet we have heard nothing from the family of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah – except some reports saying they moved out of the family house a day BEFORE the MH370 went missing.

Meanwhile in the government controlled New Straits Times the daughter of another Malaysian Airlines captain wrote a ‘ touching’ letter about her dad, the Malaysian Airlines (happy) family and asked people to lay off Captain Zaharie.

This is all very well in a society which subservience and respect is shown to a ‘superior’ – but in the west that flies out the window when life or death issues are involved. Its not a class thing.

Meanwhile Malaysian Airlines thought perhaps that flying the Chinese relatives of passengers on MH370 to Kuala Lumpur and providing hospitality would have assuaged the damage. Bad call.

They  greatly underestimated the Chinese feeling of ill-will – even though the chances of China airlines executives being even more difficult and much less hospitable had the flight been theirs are within the realms of probability.

I have covered a few air crashes in my time. In Asia they have been particularly memorable – because there are elements which one would not find in an air crash in the west.

When for instance in May 1991 Lauda Air Flight 004 crashed in a wooded area near Suphan Buri central Thailand after taking off from Bangkok, all 223 passengers and crew died instantly after the one of the plane’s reverse thrusters deployed in flight and the aircraft dived to the ground breaking up on the way. That was tragic enough.


But my recollection of this disaster is much more about the mass looting of the disaster scene, so that no personal belongings were ever recovered – and that fact that the bodies were taken to the Bangkok Police Hospital and not refrigerated – something office workers in central Bangkok had to suffer from.

There have been Thai Airlines crashes in between, but the most memorable recent air crash in Thailand was flight OG269 of One-Two-Go airlines which crashed at Phuket Airport in September 2007 with neither the pilot or co-pilot at the controls (because each presumably expected the other to take control). 89 of 150 passengers and crew were killed – many burned to death.


The horrors of this particular crash were that not only were the rescue facilities inadequate as in this below.

“Phuket Airport did not meet the requirements of fire and rescue protection required by international standards. The foam and water in the trucks used three days earlier in a training exercise and had not been restocked. 

“Hampering rescue efforts was a six-foot ditch beside and parallel to runway 27 running the length of the runway. Rescue vehicles were unable to cross this ditch, though they could have entered at either end of the runway. None did”

All the above was contrary to International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.
But worse was the recording of a British coroner recording verdicts


 British Coroner R.P. G Fisher refused to record a verdict of accidental death. Instead he wrote:

“On 16 September 2007 at approximately 15:40 local time a One-Two-Go Airlines,
(Subsidiary of Orient Thai) MD82 aircraft, registration HS-OMG, crashed and burst into flames at Phuket International Airport, Thailand. 90  passengers and crew died as a result, 8 of who were British Citizens and were repatriated to the UK. 

“The evidence highlights systematic failures and a highly deficient safety culture at the time at both airlines. These facts are not consistent with a verdict of accidental death. 

This deficient approach to air safety, including insufficient training and overworked pilots are distinctive features of the accident investigation report. 

Cumulatively, these failures permeated through into the flying abilities of the pilots of flight 0G269 on that day with disastrous and tragic consequences.”  

Well that said it all. He wished he could have forced the owners of the airline to be present at the coroner’s court to hear what he had to say.

 What were the repercussions in Thailand?  None. CEO Udom Tantiprasongchai, who was implicated in false work rosters being given to investigators merely merged the airline into the holding company Orient Thai airlines and carried on.

Go to Orient Thai and click on heart of gold


  1. You are forgetting the fire on the aircraft at Don Muang, just before Thaksin was about to board.

    First reports at the time stated the fire started in the upper front passenger compartment – not below the wing as was later reported.

    I disagree with you on one point, the investigation of aircraft accidents in the west is not 'influenced' or is in any real sense independent – the US in particular is extremely keen to ensure that the US aircraft industry's best interests are taken care of.

    This may not be limited to ensuring accidents are investigated to make sure the causes are attributed to the aircraft but also to ensure that concerns of the aircraft manufacture's customers are taken care of.

    The passenger aircraft business is a multibillion $ business in which the major operators and suppliers are very close to the politicians who are in turn often intimately involved in the process of aircraft procurement.

    The response to a train derailing, a ship sinking or a hotel full of guests burning down is somewhat different than the response to a US made aircraft crashing.

    Safety is a means to maintain the business it is not a primary business objective.

    1. Actually I left out the Thai Airways crash at Surat Thani as well. Just thought these two the most interesting.


      27 April 1980; Thai Airways BAe 748; near Bangkok: The aircraft lost altitude and crashed during approach about 8 miles (12.8 km) from the airport after entering an area of severe weather. All four crew members and 40 of the 49 passengers were killed.
      15 April 1985; Thai Airways 737-200; Phuket, Thailand: The aircraft hit high ground in darkness and was destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire. The crash killed all four passengers and seven crew members.
      31 August 1987; Thai Airways 737-200; Phuket, Thailand: While descending during a daylight approach in good weather, the crew lost control of the aircraft and crashed into sea, apparently due to a combination of errors by the flight crew and air traffic control. All of the nine crew members and 74 passengers were killed.
      31 July 1992; Thai Airways International A310-300; near Katmandu, Nepal: The aircraft had a controlled flight into terrain about 22.5 miles (36 km) from the airport after apparently using an incorrect procedure for a missed approach. All 14 crew and 99 passengers were killed.
      11 December 1998; Thai Airways International A310-200; near Surat Thani, Thailand: During its third landing attempt, the aircraft crashed just outside the Surat Thani airport. The aircraft was on a domestic flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani. There were about 50 survivors among the 132 passengers and 14 crew members.

    2. wow….is there any other country with an airline that has more accidents to its name ?

      Would love to know whom takes that record and where TA comes..

    3. "the US in particular is extremely keen to ensure that the US aircraft industry's best interests are taken care of. "
      Might be a bit difficult in the case of MH370, as things are looking at the moment.

  2. Phrases you won't hear from the mouth's of Thai politicians.

    "I was wrong"
    "I am at fault"
    "I will take full responsibility"
    "I've had my day, time for a younger person to take over"
    "I will put the best interests of the country first and resign"
    "I plead guilty"
    "I accept the courts verdict and will not appeal"
    "I did the crime so will do the time"
    "I am indeed unusually rich"

  3. Andrew, There were ultimately 90 deaths in the One -Two- Go crash.
    The Thai DCA promised indictments of One-Two-Go upper management, of course none ever materialized.

    If it weren't for Bonnie Rind's relentless investigation, web site and extensive lobbying to the US NTSB, (she was sister of one of those burned to death) – we may well have never known the truth.
    Travelers, BEWARE: One-Two- Go folded into its parent company Orient Thai, and that ditch is still there at Phuket International Airport.

  4. You're right about cultural differences between Asians and Westerners of course. Malaysia Airlines also has to think about how its image is now tarnished through bad PR. In 1987, The Herald of Free Enterprise had to be scrapped as no-one would buy her. The Townsend Thorensen brand and logo disappeared overnight. There's plenty on Twitter and WordPress on the #MH370 tragedy.

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