Malaysia Airlines: How They Handled the Disappearance of Flight 370

By Lauren Purisky, Communications Member

The loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Flight MH370, seemed to have taken over nearly every media outlet after the incident. At 7:30am on March 8, 2014, the airline issued a media statement confirming that they had lost contact with Flight MH370 nearly five hours prior. In addition, the media statement included that they had begun working with authorities as well as a Search and Rescue team. The airline provided a phone number for families of those on board to call for any further information. Malaysia Airlines continued to provide the public with updated information on a page within their website designated to the incident, which they titled “MH370 Flight Incident.”

A week after the disappearance of the plane, Malaysia Airlines hired Ketchum ICON, a PR agency based in Singapore. The airline did not make their work with Ketchum known until many days after it had begun. The Ketchum team provided the airline with crisis communications counseling as well as advice and media support. David Gallagher, CEO of Ketchum, said their main assignment was to “try and be helpful as we can to the families affected by the flight.” While they collaborated diligently with the airline, Ketchum did not do any work for the Malaysian Government.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, held a press conference on March 24 to address the public. A satellite-based analysis was used to determine where the plane may have crashed, though it could not predict the cause of the crash. According to this analysis, Flight MH370 ended somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, a location that Razak deemed “far from any possible landing sites.” After searching for the lost aircraft for 17 days and despite two pieces of debris that had been spotted just before the search was postponed due to weather conditions, Razak informed the public that the flight had ended in the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia Airlines has been criticized on their handling of such a drastic crisis. Not only did it take the airline five hours to admit they had lost contact with the plane, but the sign off message from the cockpit that was first publicized has been proven to be incorrect. The now-known sign off found in transcripts is “Good night Malaysian three seven zero.” This discrepancy has led the public to question the authority’s credibility. Quite possibly the most criticized move throughout the crisis, the airline sent out a text message to the families of those on board stating that they must assume all passengers were dead. The former head of communications at Malaysia Airline, Indira Nair, even described the Malaysian Government’s dealing with the media as “uncomfortable.” She continues to say that little things could have been handled better, especially when concerning the families of the passengers.

We send our condolences to the friends and families of all those on board.

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