PHUKET: A British sailor crossing the Indian Ocean en route to Phuket in March has stepped forward to file a report that she may have seen the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.
Katherine Tee, 41, was sailing from Cochin, India to Phuket with her husband Marc Horn, 50, when she saw what looked like a plane on fire crossing the night sky, with a plume of black smoke trailing behind it.
Katherine, from Liverpool, was alone on deck at the time.
“I was on a night watch. My husband was asleep below deck and our one other crew member was asleep on deck,” she told the Phuket Gazette.
“I saw something that looked like a plane on fire. That’s what I thought it was. Then, I thought I must be mad… It caught my attention because I had never seen a plane with orange lights before, so I wondered what they were.
“I could see the outline of the plane, it looked longer than planes usually do. There was what appeared to be black smoke streaming from behind it.”
At least two other aircraft were visible in the night sky.
“There were two other planes passing well above it – moving the other way – at that time. They had normal navigation lights. I remember thinking that if it was a plane on fire that I was seeing, the other aircraft would report it,” Katherine said.
“And then, I wondered again why it had such bright orange lights. They reminded me of sodium lights. I thought it could be some anomaly or just a meteor.”
Katherine noted that when she first saw the object, “It was approaching to cross behind our stern from the north. When I checked again later, it had moved across the stern and was moving away to the south.”
Katherine kept her experience to herself. She and her husband had been at sea for about 13 months at that time, she explained, and long voyages can take their toll on relationships.
“We hadn’t spoken for about a week,” Katherine noted.
When the trio arrived in Phuket on March 10, however, they heard of the MH370 tragedy. Katherine told local yachties what she thought she saw while en route to Phuket.
“Some suggested I should say something, that [what I saw] might have been it. Most said that the flight was heading toward Vietnam. I wasn’t sure of the date or time [of the sighting]. I am still not,” she told the Gazette.
“I did think that what I saw would add little, and be dismissed with the thousands of other sightings that I assumed were being reported. I thought that the authorities would be able to track [the plane’s] GPS log, which I assumed was automatically transmitted, or something like that.
“Most of all, I wasn’t sure of what I saw. I couldn’t believe it myself, and didn’t think anyone would believe me when I was having trouble believing my own eyes.
“I didn’t even consider putting out a Mayday at the time. Imagine what an idiot I would have looked like if I was mistaken, and I believed I was. So I dismissed it, and got on with the business of fixing myself and my marriage.”
However, after hearing a news report last Saturday explaining that a survey ship involved in the search for MH370 was returning to port due to technical problems, Katherine began reviewing her yacht’s log.
“The first time I told him [Marc] was after hearing the radio report. That is when we checked our GPS log and realized that perhaps I really did see it,” she said.
After Marc posted data maps of the yacht’s route across the ocean on yachting website Cruisers Forum (click here), the couple discovered that their 40-foot sloop was in the vicinity of one of the projected flight paths for MH370.
The flight path was estimated during the initial search period, after experts realized that Malaysian defense forces had ascertained a “ping” that could have been the ill-fated aircraft.
Cruisers Forum member “europaflyer” recreated a map by using Google Earth, showing the yacht’s position compared with the projected flightpath for MH370. The map showed the aircraft would have passed the yacht astern from port to starboard, just as Katherine remembered it.
“This is what convinced me… to file a report with the full track data for our voyage to the relevant authorities,” Katherine said.
Katherine and Marc on Saturday filed the report with the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), the Australian organization tasked with co-ordinating the search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, and followed up with a second email to the JACC yesterday.
The Gazette has yet to receive confirmation from the JACC that the agency has received the report or any indication as to whether or not the search body will investigate any of its claims.
“Will this help the authorities of the families get closure? I have no idea. All I can confirm is that I have since learnt that we were in the right place at the right time, so it seems possible, but I chose to sweep it under the carpet and now I feel really bad.
“Maybe I should have had a little more confidence in myself. I am sorry I didn’t take action sooner.”
— Chris Husted