Kiwi loses job after MH370 email

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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The Kiwi who spotted what may have been the burning missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 off the coast of Vietnam was sacked from his position on an oil rig after reporting the incident.

Mike McKay was working on the Songa Mercur oil rig off the Vietnamese coast in March when the Boeing 777 jet with 239 passengers and crew went missing.

McKay sent an email to his employers after he saw what he believed to be a burning plane, which was leaked to the media.

Following the publication of his email, name and place of work, the rig operator, Idemitsu, and McKay's contractor and rig owner, Songa Offshore, were inundated with inquiries that blocked their communications, McKay said.

"This became intolerable for them and I was removed from the rig and not invited back."

McKay said he was paid up until the end of his hitch, or work period, but released from the rig five days early.

The subcontractor that he was working under, M-I Swaco, said McKay was being released early as it had a local-salary engineer to take his place, he said. "Contracts meant little in the oil field," McKay said. "The oil patch is a rough, unforgiving game."

The drilling fluids consultant has worked mostly in Southeast Asia for the past 35 years and in Vietnam waters almost continuously since 2008. He is now back in New Zealand and is waiting for a new contract.

McKay saw what he believed to be a burning plane at high altitude, which appeared to be in one piece. "I believe I saw the Malaysian Airlines plane come down. The timing is right."

In his email he described his exact location on the oil rig, the compass bearing of where the plane was in relation to the rig, the approximate distance of the plane from the rig, the surface current and wind direction. The plane was off the normal flight path, he said, explaining he knew that because "we see the contrails every day".

He signed off the email with "good luck" followed by his full name and New Zealand passport number.

Vietnamese officials interviewed McKay in Vung Tau and were going to act on his sighting but the search moved to the Andaman Sea two days after the interview, McKay said. But neither the Malaysian nor Australian search teams had been in touch, he said.

McKay also made a statement to New Zealand Police for Interpol on his return home.

Last week another person, a woman sailing between India and Thailand in early March, came forward and told Australian authorities she may have seen the missing airliner on fire on the same day as McKay, but in a different location. Katherine Tee, 41, was on night watch on the deck of her yacht in early March when she claims she saw a plane surrounded by bright orange lights and with a tail of black smoke pass above her.

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She only recently reported her sighting to the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre in Australia because she said she and her husband were not talking and she did not think anyone else would believe her.

McKay said his sighting was over the South China Sea, which would place it around 2000 kilometres away from Tee's sighting. He was unsure if MH370 could have flown that far: "How far can a burning aeroplane fly?"

The ongoing search for the missing airliner raised a lot of unanswered questions, he said. "The investigators do not inspire trust."

Investigators searching for MH370 have now ruled out an area in the Southern Indian Ocean where acoustic signals were detected, after an unmanned submersible found no trace of the airliner, the Australian agency co-ordinating the hunt said last month.

The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau is calling for tenders for vessels and sonar equipment to continue the hunt, but the new commercial arm of the search would not start for another couple of months and could take up to a year.

Last week Wellington-based space scientist and physicist Duncan Steel told news agency Bernama the search should be extended thousands of kilometres north to a Kyrgyzstan valley where a cloud of smoke was seen at about the time the plane could have crashed. Steel, who works with Nasa, said consideration should be given to the northern corridor of the plane's possible flight path.

- Sunday Star Times

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