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Washington’s Part in the Investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

The nation’s capital may be at a distance, but experts are assisting with essential talents and tools.

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. Photograph via Flickr user Aero Icarus.

Malaysian authorities control the often loopy, contradictory, and frustrating investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. But since the plane vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, US government experts on topics from transportation to terrorism have headed to Southeast Asia to assist with the search. Even those here at home are watching closely, shown Thursday afternoon when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed a report that the search may be expanded to the Indian Ocean.

The agencies most closely involved:

  • The National Transportation Safety Board sent three investigators to help with the probe soon after the plane was reported missing. NTSB is responsible for investigating every US civil aviation accident, but as it’s the considered the top crash-investigation agency in the world, it often offers assistance to other countries.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration sent two technical experts and a regional representative to Kuala Lumpur, mostly as support for the NTSB team, according to a spokesperson. But the FAA has a particular interest because the missing aircraft is an American-made Boeing, whose large government operations office in Arlington is likely working hard this week. (Coincidentally the agency issued a directive last week pertaining to potential corrosion and cracks on the 777, though no one has connected the directive to the disappearance.)
  • The FBI can respond whenever Americans are aboard a downed flight. In this case, the FBI Legal Attachés based in Kuala Lumpur are “cooperating closely with their counterparts,” according to the State Department. An FBI spokesperson said the bureau is ready to provide more assistance if requested by the Malaysian government.
  • The US Navy’s office of the Chief of Naval Operations has deployed the USS Kidd from the Gulf of Thailand to the Strait of Malacca; it is expected to arrive on Saturday. Two aircraft, a P-8A Poseiden and a P-3C Orion, have also been sent to help in the search. The P-8 typically flies below 10,000 feet at 350 knots and can search for up to nine hours, depending on how remote the search area is, according to the Navy Office of Information.
  • The Malaysian government has invited experts from the State Department to work on the case, and spokesperson Peter Velasco said the US embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing have been keeping in touch with families of the American citizens aboard the flight.

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