Major airline disasters in Malaysia

Major airline disasters in Malaysia
A photograph of the 1977 disaster involving Malaysia Airlines flight MH653 at Tanjung Kupang.
KUALA LUMPUR: Prayers continue to pour in as the fate of 239 crew and passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH370 Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight remains unknown.

The MH370 flight was an 11.8 year-old Boeing 777-200 plane, delivered in the early 2000s. (The average age of a MAS' Boeing 777 plane is 14.2 years old.)

The Boeing 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20 year history until the Asiana crash in San Francisco last year. In July 2013, a 777 operated by South Korea's Asiana Airlines skidded off the runway upon landing at San Francisco's international airport after it clipped a seawall before crash landing. Three people died.

There were two major airline disasters in Malaysia the past, both involving MAS airplanes:

The 1977 Tanjung Kupang hijack and crash

With 100 deaths, it was the first crash for MAS and the worst airline disaster in the country's history.
On the evening of Dec 4, 1977, Malaysia Airlines flight MH653, a Boeing 737-2H6, departed from Penang Airport to the Subang International Airport in Kuala Lumpur at 7.21pm.

With 93 passengers and 7 crew members on board, the aircraft commanded by Captain G.K. Ganjoor, flew uneventfully to Kuala Lumpur.

However at 7.46pm, the plane's captain G.K. Ganjoor had been given permission to land by the Subang International Airport Control Tower. While the plane was descending towards the runway, “unidentified hijackers” on the plane had been reported.

The tower immediately notified the authorities, who made emergency preparations at the airport.
A few minutes later, however, Captain Ganjoor told the control tower the plane was diverting to Singapore. Flight MH653 however never touched down at the island republic.

The cockpit voice recordings revealed noises indicating the cockpit door been broken, along with a reasonable amount of screaming and cursing. The recordings suggested a commotion, and that someone was pulling and pushing the control column. Security personnel on board the craft were also heard trying to regain control of the aircraft.

At 20:15 hours, all communication with flight MH653 was lost.

At 20:36 hours, the residents of Kampong Ladang, Tanjong Kupang in Johor reported hearing explosions and seeing burning wreckage in a swamp nearby. The wreckage was later identified as Flight MH653. The plane hit the ground at a near-vertical angle at very high speeds. There were no survivors and the bodies found were beyond recognition.

In total 93 passengers and seven crew members perished in the MH653 tragedy. Among the passengers were Agricultural Minister, Datuk Ahmad; Public Works Department Head Datuk Mahfuz Khalid, and Cuban Ambassador to Japan, Mario García

There was speculation saying that the Japanese Red Army was responsible for the hijacking, however it had never been confirmed.

The Tawau crash

On Sept 15, 1995, a MAS plane crashed in Tawau, killing 34 people on board and injuring nine on the ground, in what was the national carrier's worst disaster in nearly two decades.

Sixteen survived the crash involving a Malaysian Airlines Fokker 50, carrying 49 passengers and four crew members from Kota Kinabalu.

The plane was attempting to land at Tawau airport when it overshot the runway and plunged into neighboring houses, a touch down of 500m (1,600 ft) before the end of the 2,200m long runway.

Eyewitnesses and MAS ground staff in Tawau said they heard a big explosion and saw the aircraft engulfed in flames after it tore into 20 wooden squatter houses, called Kampung Seri Menanti, near the airport.

According to an investigation report, the accident was probably caused by the pilot's poor in-flight decision-making and failure to follow standard operating procedures. The report also pointed out the failure of the co-pilot to alert the captain of unsafe manoeuvres or take over control of the aircraft. Another contributing factor was the failure of the air traffic controller to provide positive air traffic services in controlled airspace.

In October, 2013,  a smaller Twin Otter aircraft operated by MASwings, crashed upon  landing in Sabah last October, killing a co-pilot and a passenger.