Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Search Is Very Costly but Necessary. Here’s Why

March 9, 2015 3:52 pm Last Updated: June 24, 2015 7:57 pm

It’s been just over a year since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing with 239 people on board, and while there’s been no sign of the aircraft despite expansive search efforts, it’s important that search go on, says grief expert Russell Friedman.

Not a single piece of debris from Flight 370 has been discovered, and it was reported that the plane’s underwater locator beacon had an expired battery. Officials said the bad battery didn’t hamper the search efforts for the plane in a swath of the Southern Indian Ocean hundreds miles from Perth, Australia.

So, given the complete lack of progress, the immense challenge posed by the search area (the Southern Indian Ocean is one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth), and the cost of the operation ($94 million so far), why should the Malaysian and Australian governments continue the search for the aircraft?

There are a number of reasons, says Russell Friedman, head of The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation, and author of “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” among other publications. He argues that the families of the people on board the plane need closure.

Friedman notes that humans need visual confirmation. “We heard the news that someone died, now we need to see the body to confirm that it is true,” he says, referring to the families of the people on the missing plane.

We heard the news that someone died, now we need to see the body to confirm that it is true.  The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation
— Russell Friedman, The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation

“Something as small as a belt buckle or piece of clothing or jewelry is enough to prove to a delayed griever that indeed it was their person who died in that event,” he elaborates. “That is why billions of dollars and time and energy were spent in the dust at the twin towers after 9/11 and in the ocean bottom when TWA Flight 800 went down in the dead of winter.”

Friedman says that in most every culture and religion, there’s “open caskets [when possible] at funerals, for the express purpose of providing visual confirmation of the auditory information we have received.”

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines released a report on the flight’s disappearance, and it responded to the Malaysian government’s claims that the underwater locator battery expired. It said that a similar beacon was installed in a solid state cockpit voice recorder, and it said the device’s battery life was fine.

Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, console each other outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 12. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, console each other outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 12. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

“As stated in the findings of the report, the engineering maintenance system was not updated correctly when the ULB [underwater locating beacon] battery was first installed. This was a maintenance scheduling oversight,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement on Monday.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, which are called the black boxes, have beacons to help locate them underwater. The battery can power signals for a minimum of 30 days.

During the initial search phase, there were faint signals deep in the Southern Indian Ocean that may have come from Flight 370, but they were eventually lost.

Four ships are continuing to search the Southern Indian Ocean and have covered more than 40 percent of the total search area.

“Assuming no other significant delays with vessels, equipment, or from the weather, the current underwater search area may be largely completed around May 2015,” the agency leading the search, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said in an update last week.