Missing Flight MH370 search to resume

 

Six months after search and rescue teams converged on the southern Indian Ocean to look for the missing Malaysian jet, another mission to find the aircraft is about to start. But the latest international hunt for MH370 will get under way amid acrimony about the possible cause of the plane’s loss.

The Boeing 777, with 239 people on board, disappeared in March on a routine northbound flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. No wreckage has been found, but satellite communication with the jet indicates that the aircraft turned around and headed south, running out of fuel over the Indian Ocean. 

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) intends to resume the search on 30 September. Refined analysis of the satellite data has led to the ATSB establishing a “Priority Search Area” on the so-called Seventh Arc of satellite “pings” - the last-known communication from the doomed plane. It is a stripe of ocean three times the size of Wales, due west of Perth in Western Australia. 

The latest calculations suggest MH370 changed course earlier than previously thought, allowing it to fly further south before losing “fuel autonomy” and crashing in the sea.

 

For the past few weeks, survey vessels have been mapping the ocean floor in the area, which is up to 6,000m deep. AF447, the Air France jet lost between Rio and Paris in 2009, was found a depth of 3,900m. That search for that aircraft took almost two years even though wreckage on the surface and reasonably accurate tracking of its flight path enabled investigators to narrow down the search area.

One comment on a pilots’ forum reads: “The location and recovery of any critical MH370 wreckage is going to be one of the most difficult undersea operations ever mounted.”

A team of international experts known as the Independent Group has calculated a different location to the ATSB. The group says the crash site could be at or close to the location 37.5S, 89.2E - about 2,500km west-south-west of Perth in Western Australia.

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Pictures of crews and passengers are displayed (EPA)

Both this prediction and the ATSB analysis assume that the aircraft was flying at normal altitude and speed - rather than more slowly at a lower height as a response to depressurisation. The use of the assumption could reignite the controversy over a new book about the disappearance, Goodnight Malaysian 370.

The authors - a New Zealand pilot, Ewan Wilson, and a journalist, Geoff Taylor - theorise that the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, locked the copilot out of the flight deck and depressurised the plane. The passengers and crew would have passed out quickly and died shortly afterwards. 

They speculate that Captain Shah, using oxygen, then turned the aircraft around and headed south, carrying out a controlled ditching when the plane ran out of fuel. But the airline angrily issued a statement deploring the book: “The authors and publishers should quite simply be ashamed of themselves for what is nothing more than a cheap and maligned publicity stunt, seeking to simply cash in on the suffering of the families and undermining the dignity of all of those onboard.”

Malaysia Airlines is also waiting for the full Dutch Safety Board report on flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July with the loss of 298 passengers and crew. 

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