Malaysia, Australia in deal on black box custody: report

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 18 2014 06:55 PM | Updated as of Apr 19 2014 02:55 AM

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia and Australia will sign a deal specifying who handles any wreckage from missing flight MH370 that may be recovered, including the crucial "black box" flight data recorders, local media reported Friday.

Malaysia is drafting the agreement "to safeguard both nations from any legal pitfalls that may surface during that (recovery) phase," the New Straits Times reported.

The government hopes the deal can be finalised soon and endorsed in a Cabinet meeting next week. Canberra is studying the memorandum of understanding, it said.

"The MoU spells out exactly who does what and the areas of responsibility," civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying.

Azharuddin added that Malaysia would lead most of the investigation, with Australia and others helping. Details of the MoU will not be made public, the report said.

Azharuddin and other officials could not immediately be reached by AFP.

The Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people inexplicably veered off course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean far off western Australia.

But a massive international search has failed to turn up any wreckage so far.

The crisis has brought intense international scrutiny on Malaysia's government, which has been accused by anguished Chinese families and other critics of hiding information and possibly trying to cover up its handling of the situation.

Malaysia's government has rejected such claims, saying it is passing on all it knows promptly. Two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese.

The government-controlled New Straits Times said the Malaysia-Australia deal would address "specific areas" including who will handle the wreckage and the flight data recorders, known as black boxes.

Malaysia's scandal-prone regime, which has a poor record on transparency, has pledged it will reveal the data recorders' contents if they are found.

It is hoped any data contained within will indicate what caused the plane to divert. A range of theories including hijacking, rogue pilot activity and aircraft malfunctions have been speculated.

The New Straits Times quoted a source with "intimate knowledge" of the deal saying it also specified where any passenger remains would be brought and who would carry out autopsies.

A survey by Malaysia's leading independent polling firm released earlier this week found that only 26 percent of Malaysians believed the government was being transparent about MH370.

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