Missing Malaysia Flight MH370: Even if Australian debris is the lost plane, recovering its black box could take years


Kuala Lumpur

Officials have warned that even it the debris discovered off the Australian coast is from missing Flight MH370 it could be years before teams recover the black box data recorder essential for revealing what happened to the plane.

With all eyes on Australian search and rescue crews searching four hours off the coast of Perth, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that while debris from Air France 447 was found five days after it disappeared in June 2009, it took two years to locate the data box.

Three French officials are assisting the investigation team in Malaysia and Mr Hishammuddin said their role could be essential. “ The next step would be to find the black box,” he said, asked about what Malaysia would do if the debris was conclusively linked to MH370. “That is where the French team will be very important. Sonar technology and other assets will be used. But we will address that when we need to.”

The team that eventually located the black box belonging to the Air France flight, discovered it two-and-half miles down at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, off the north-east coast of Brazil. The wreckage was located in April 2011.

David Gallo, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, which led the team, said that finding MH370 may be even more difficult. “AF447 had a good Last Known Position (LKP) which provided search teams with an approximate location to focus a search for debris,” he said. “We were able to back-track the floating debris over five days or more than a week to estimate where in that circle the plane impacted.”


In the case of MH370, there has been no LKP. Rather officials have been focusing their efforts along two arcs from the plane’s last fixed radar position off the coast of the Malaysian island of Penang. One of those arcs heads north towards Kazakhstan, the other south towards the southern Indian ocean.

He said it was essential that those leading the search be open with all the information available to them. “It’s important to be sure all the truth has come forward. Anything could become an important bit of evidence or clue to finding the aircraft,” he said.


He added: “If there is a will to find the plane, the plane will be found.  There are many teams trying very hard to find that aircraft.”

Mr Hishammuddin said if the debris is proved to have come from MH370, one of the many challenges facing officials would be dealing properly with the relatives of the 239 passengers and crew who boarded the plane.

“The French team had to deal with the relatives for two years,” he said during a press conference on Thursday evening. “How to deal with the raw emotion?”

On Thursday, the father of one of the passengers on the plane said he was still waiting for more information.

“If it turns out that it is truly MH370 then we will accept that fate,” Omar Selamat, whose son Khairul, an aviation engineer, was aboard. But he told the Associated Press: “We still do not yet know for sure whether this is indeed MH370 or something else. Therefore we are still waiting for further notice from the Australian government.”

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