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MH370 SEARCH: Search must continue despite lack of wreckage, experts say

Publication Date : 23-04-2014


Nothing has been found of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 after 46 days of scouring the Indian Ocean, but the hunt must go on, aviation and industry experts have said.

The lack of success has led to doubts about whether the plane, which disappeared on March 8 about 50 minutes after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, did crash in the Indian Ocean as believed.

Some communications experts are questioning analysis of satellite data by London-based Inmarsat, which concluded that the plane ended its journey somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

The firm had initially suggested that the Boeing 777 could have gone as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia or southwards towards the Indian Ocean. Upon closer scrutiny of satellite data, Inmarsat said that MH370 took the southern path.

Since then, all efforts have focused on the southern Indian Ocean, with Australia taking the lead in the search mission.

The Malaysian authorities have so far refused to comment on whether they are relooking at the search area.

Michael Daniel, a retired US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official, told The Straits Times yesterday: "That nothing has been found so far does not necessarily mean we are looking in the wrong place.

"Such searches are typically long-drawn and require a lot of patience."

He pointed out that when Air France Flight AF447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, it took almost two years to find the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders although the authorities knew the site of the crash.

The black boxes, as they are referred to, record conversations in the cockpit and preserve data on the position and speed of the aircraft. They are fitted with underwater locator beacons that can transmit for 30 days to guide search-and-rescue teams hunting for wreckage.

Jacques Astre, president of industry consultancy International Aviation Safety Solutions and a former FAA official, noted that MH370 search teams had detected four signals - the last on April 8 - that were consistent with aircraft black box pings.

He said: "The pings are transmitted on a frequency that can be easily distinguished from typical ocean sounds. This unique frequency (35 kHz) is designed to make it easier for searchers to track the signal and avoid the confusion of other sounds."

Dr Liew Soo Chin, principal research scientist and head of research at the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, National University of Singapore, said that while he has not seen the actual satellite data, Inmarsat's analysis and conclusion appear sound.

He said: "The steps taken by Inmarsat to eliminate the northern corridor and focus on the southern area are based on established procedures and legitimate methods of analysis. I would have adopted the same methods as well."

A submersible US-made sonar device called Bluefin-21 has done daily sweeps of the ocean floor some 4.5km deep and 2,000km north-west of the Australian city of Perth for more than a week.

The search area is confined to a 10km radius around the site of the April 8 acoustic detection.

Astre said: "Finding wreckage in a vast ocean is a daunting task even when sophisticated equipment is used for the search. The most likely location of the wreckage is in the Indian Ocean. However, finding it now may take a very long time without a signal to guide searchers to the wreckage."


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