The NSW State Coroner’s Court will review the disappearance of veteran Australian journalist and author Ean Higgins to decide whether the matter should progress to a formal coronial inquest.
The review will be conducted by NSW Deputy State Coroner Elizabeth Ryan and is due to start later this month.
It could take several months and the review has been described by the court as being a “detailed and lengthy” process which will assess all available evidence.
Mr Higgins was the author of the 2019 book, The Hunt for MH370, a forensic investigation into the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished in March, 2014.
The 239 people on board the Boeing 777 are presumed dead and the incident sparked the biggest maritime search in history.
In the years following MH370’s disappearance the aircraft has not been found but several pieces of debris confirmed to be from the flight were located on the African Coast and across islands in the Indian Ocean.
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In 2015, a part of the aircraft’s right wing known as the flaperon was discovered on a beach in Saint Denis on Reunion Island and a year later the rear edge of an outboard flap was found on Ilot Bernache in Mauritius.
Aviation experts have many theories about what happened to the aircraft, including whether a “mass hypoxia event” resulted in a crash in the Indian Ocean, roughly 2,500 kilometres offshore from Western Australia, or whether the pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah deliberately crashed the aircraft.
The initial search area spanned 600,000 square kilometres – an area the size of France – before eventually being narrowed to a more specific 23,000 square kilometre zone after extensive analysis of satellite imagery.
In addition to his book, Mr Higgins also worked with Sky News Australia on an investigative documentary MH370: The Untold Story, which aired in February, 2020.
In the documentary, pilot and experienced aviator Byron Bailey told Sky News he was confident the pilot deliberately crashed the aircraft into the Indian Ocean in a case of pilot suicide.
Mr Bailey said the original search parameters may have been incorrect as the location was based off a “death dive” rather than a scenario where the pilot glided the aircraft “as far south as possible”, towards the remote Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, to intentionally reduce the amount of discoverable wreckage.
A satellite data and drift modelling report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found MH370 likely reached an area over the Indian Ocean designated the “7th arc” when “the aircraft is considered to have exhausted its fuel and to have been descending”.
NSW Police declined to share information on when Mr Higgins was last seen, but it is believed he disappeared in the second half of 2020.
Sky News Australia presenter Peter Stefanovic worked with Mr Higgins on the documentary and described him as a thorough and dogged reporter.
“Personally, Ean was an amiable guy and really easy to be around,” Mr Stefanovic said.
“Professionally, he was a diligent and thorough journalist who knew a yarn.
“He was key to driving the search for MH370 and keeping it in the headlines. No amount of government obfuscation kept him at bay.
“We were all saddened to hear about his disappearance.”
Police sources cited the potential upcoming coronial inquest, and internal policies prohibiting the distribution of details which could publicly identify missing people, as reasons not to reveal the date he was last seen.
Distinguished state coroner Magistrate Elizabeth Ryan, who is currently presiding over the inquest into the disappearance of fraudster Melissa Caddick, would review that evidence.
NSW Police are not treating the matter as suspicious.
A spokesman for the NSW State Coroner’s Court said the review into Mr Higgins’ disappearance would be conducted internally but maintained it was a thorough and extensive process.
“The review process is both detailed and lengthy and takes longer than one day,” the spokesman said.
“In some cases it may take some months.
“During that time, the coroner will read the police brief, post mortem reports and any other records and documents gathered, they may conference with investigators, crown, coronial advocates etc to further direct investigation, order further witness statements or other evidence, consider whether a medical expert review is required and so on.”
Mr Higgins had a successful career as an investigative journalist, serving his cadetship at the Australian Financial Review before eventually joining The Australian in 1988 to work as the paper’s Foreign News Editor.
He enjoyed a lengthy stint at The Australian where he held positions as Inquirer Editor, European Correspondent and Sydney Bureau chief.
Throughout his career he covered significant crime, aviation and corruption stories, and received high industry praise for his book on MH370.
Australian journalist and Boy Swallows Universe author Trent Dalton once described Higgins’ book as a “staggering, meticulous and frequently spine-chilling work of longform journalism”.
In 2013 Mr Higgins won a Kennedy Award for a first-person piece describing the bushfires which ravaged southern NSW earlier that year.
Source: Sky News