Reports from an oil rig worker who saw a fire in the sky on the night Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared are being taken seriously, police sources have confirmed.
But New Zealander Mike McKay, 55, has lost his job in the ‘‘circus’’ that developed after his report to authorities was leaked.
Mr McKay had been working on the Songa Mercur oil rig in the South China Sea when he saw an ‘‘orange light’’ on an especially clear night.
The search for flight MH370 continues. Photo: Indonesian Air Force
The object was still in one piece and close to where MH370 first dropped off radar between Malaysia and Vietnam on March 8 with 239 people on board.
He emailed his employer and Vietnamese authorities about his sighting, but his statement was leaked, which included his full name, email, passport number, and full details of the company operating the rig.
In the ensuing media storm, Mr McKay said the Japanese-based petroleum company, Idemitsu, was flooded with emails and he was taken off the rig.
He is now unemployed and disappointed his efforts at reporting potentially vital information turned into such a circus.
‘‘I was only trying to privately help,’’ he told Fairfax Media during a series of interviews.
‘‘If it was the aeroplane I saw, then it must have been an external fire. How far would an aeroplane stay in the air after such a fire?’’
Mr McKay has worked in oil and gas exploration for more than 30 years, mostly in Southeast Asia, but returned to his native New Zealand while waiting for more work.
His initial statement described what he believed to be an aircraft on fire at a high altitude. The fire burned itself out in about 10 to 15 seconds and he gave an exact location based on his position on the oil rig platform.
‘‘There was no lateral movement, so it was either coming toward our location, stationary (falling) or going away from our location,’’ he wrote.
His sighting, however, appeared to be quickly discounted as one of the many hoaxes and false leads which have hampered the three-month international search effort.
Mr McKay’s reluctance to go public, and his complete lack of an internet presence, also raised doubts about the credibility of the report, which began on social media and gained traction largely through MH370 conspiracy theory websites.
But Fairfax Media tracked down the oil industry worker and confirmed with two police sources that he is being treated as a truthful and credible witness.
He was interviewed at length about his sighting at a police station near Auckland and his statement has since been forwarded to Malaysian authorities.
‘‘What he’s told you is effectively what he’s told us,’’ said a senior investigator involved in the case.
Mr McKay’s witness statement comes after a British sailor also reported seeing a burning object in the sky.
Katherine Tee, 41, was sailing from India to Thailand in early March when she spotted a plane surrounded by bright orange lights with a tail of black smoke.
The two sightings, however, are hundreds of kilometres apart.
Investigators have also moved on from searching the South China Sea and still believe MH370 went down somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean.
While several underwater acoustic signals or ‘‘pings’’ have been ruled out as coming from the aircraft’s black boxes, satellite data still places it somewhere on a long arc in the large, southern search area.
Mr McKay said he hopes the plane is found in the Indian Ocean but he can’t explain how his sighting may fit in with what is known so far.
‘‘There are unanswered questions every step of the way,’’ he said.
‘‘I have no answers.’’