At the very least it’s a great screenplay for a Hollywood blockbuster – a thriller with deeply sinister undertones.

At a push it could stretch to a sci-fi movie focussing on an abduction by aliens, why not?

A $260m Boeing 777, measuring 63.7m in length, weighing up to 295,000 kg and carrying 239 crew and passengers, disappears off the face of the earth – just like that – gone without a trace.

A Boeing 777 goes missing and nobody but nobody appears to have a clue what happened.
A Boeing 777 goes missing and nobody but nobody appears to have a clue what happened.

Despite civilian radar, secretive military surveillance, £90m spent on sophisticated searches covering tens of thousands of square miles of ocean – nothing can determine the fate of the missing plane.

It may sound far-fetched but tragically, as we know all too well, it’s not a work of fiction – it happened.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished on 8th March, 2014, en-route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Flight MH370 disappeared more than two years ago without leaving a trace.
Flight MH370 disappeared more than two years ago without leaving a trace.

Undoubtedly a tale of mystery and human tragedy, it leaves the families and friends of those on board, to mourn and wonder about the fate of those missing, presumed dead.

From a PR perspective it was every professional communicator’s worst nightmare.

It’s bad enough if you’re in a damage limitation situation or trying to defend the ‘indefensible’, but how on earth do you begin to explain the inexplicable?

Amid a myriad of sensitivities, the comms role is to present the facts, striving to keep the families of those lost, any stakeholders, the media and the public, fully appraised with timely and accurate updates.

Will the facts ever emerge? - The wife of a passenger lost on MH370 campaigns for the truth.
Will the facts ever emerge? – The wife of a passenger lost on MH370 campaigns for the truth.

What you don’t want is an information vacuum to develop, one that can and will, be filled with supposition, fiction and downright lies.

It doesn’t help if those entrusted with handling such a terrible event lack a sense of direction, display no leadership and come across as absolutely clueless.

What happened in the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of MH370 can only be described as a shambles – a textbook lesson in how not to conduct crisis communications.

It was only when the Malaysian Minister of Defence, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein took over the daily media briefings that a degree of credibility was restored.

Articulate, confident and fluent in both Bahasa and English, Malaysia would have been much better served if the crisis communications protocols had dictated his immediate appointment as principal spokesman.

Great unknown - the pain and human suffering of the mystery of Flight MH370 is clear to see.
Great unknown – the pain and human suffering of the mystery of Flight MH370 is clear to see.

Now, more than two years on, the conspiracy theories continue – hijacking, sabotage, kidnapping, cover ups – US, Chinese, Israeli, Russian involvement…who knows what happened and who, if anybody, was involved?

Without a definitive, plausible explanation backed up by irrefutable physical evidence, the permutations and scenarios go on and on.

It’s a mess – a communications disaster.

Where in the world? Search teams face a treacherous task trying to locate any signs of MH370.
Where in the world? Search teams face a treacherous task trying to locate any signs of MH370.

Having represented companies in times of crisis, where lives have been lost, reputations have been on the line and contentious issues have raged between corporate entities and Government, I can only imagine the frustrations of those who so desperately want to bring communications clarity to the mystery of Flight MH370.

Sadly, it doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon.

 

David Walker

@RightWordComms