Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Now we know the plane came down and hopes are extinguished, what task will be ahead?

 

Travel Correspondent

Investigations into aviation disasters are based on previous calamities, looking closely at similar losses to created hypotheses about the cause. In the past decade, there have been crashes with which MH370 shares some elements: in 2005, a Helios jet flew on across Greece on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed, and in 2009 a large Air France aircraft was lost in the ocean, mid-cruise. But the circumstances of the Malaysia Airlines plane are so far beyond the experience of the aviation community that the search for clues becomes all the more critical.

As the relatives of the people aboard the lost Boeing 777 learned that their hopes had been extinguished, tangible evidence of the lost aircraft remained elusive. Military and civil aircraft continue to sweep the ocean west of Australia, with ships moving towards the search zone.

The search for traces of Air France flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic between Rio and Paris, was challenging – but MH370 is an order of magnitude more challenging. The distance from the shore is much greater, the sea conditions much heavier and the clues about possible locations much less certain. 

A United Nations of ships, aircraft and satellites are focusing on the area: military aircraft and executive jets from Australia, a wide-bodied plane from China, naval vessels from Australia and the US Pacific Fleet as well as a Chinese icebreaker and European merchant shipping. Those are the assets we know about; they may be supplemented with intelligence from submarines, if that can be achieved without revealing the location of the clandestine vessels and their sophisticated instruments.

 

Once a fragment of debris is found, whether a seat cushion or a fragment of cargo, the search area can be narrowed down. While that goes on, the debris will be minutely examined for clues about the loss. When the crash site is finally located, the recovery of the remains of the aircraft – and the 239 people on board – can begin.

The recovery teams will home in on the flight data recorder, which keeps details of commands from the flight deck, and the cockpit voice recorder. The latter, though, may not yield many clues since it has only a two-hour capacity, and therefore cannot reveal what happened over the Gulf of Thailand.

READ MORE:  MISSING JET 'ENDED FLIGHT IN MIDDLE OF INDIAN OCEAN'
'WE ARE NOT GIVING UP', SAY OFFICIALS 
SPOTTER PLANES FAIL TO FIND ANY SIGN OF JET 
DEBRIS IN INDIAN OCEAN SPOTTED BY SATELLITE 
FOLLOWING IN THE TRAIL OF THE LOST PLANE

While the search gains intensity, so too do the theories about the cause. While some early speculation – that MH370 was shot down by a missile, or downed by a terrorist bomb – have been ruled out, conjecture is rife about the possible reason for an abrupt change of course.

One of the leading theories is that a fire broke out, and the crew responded by turning the aircraft in a bid to reach the nearest landing strip. If they were then incapacitated before broadcasting a Mayday message, the cabin crew would be unable to access the flight deck due to the locked cockpit door. Yet the fire would then need to have extinguished itself, rather than downing the aircraft.

Others point to the presumed course of the plane, which looks as though it could have been designed to minimise the chance of detection.

Yet if a human hand was involved, and passengers became aware of a sinister development, some would presumably switch on their mobile phones – a few of which would be expected to register on networks, even while briefly flying over the Malayan peninsula.

While the search continues, the mystery of MH370 is becoming to the early 21st century what the JFK assassination was to the 20th century.

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game