Underwater Hunt for Malaysia Airlines Jet ‘More Focused’

Air and Sea Search for Flight 370 Could End This Week

Thursday's search area

Thursday's search area

By Paul Riegler on 17 April 2014
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Experts are continually finding out how little they know about the area of the southern Indian Ocean where Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is believed to have crashed..  Indeed, the story of the missing plane, combined with the failure to find a single trace of debris, continues to be one of the biggest aviation mysteries in 80 years.

The hunt for Flight 370 started almost immediately after the plane disappeared from radar on March 8.  Dozens of planes and ships, not to mention satellite cameras, have scoured the region looking for clues. All they have found, after white spots pointed searchers to a specific area, are wooden pallets, fishing nets, and other flotsam.

Following a preliminary analysis, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is managing the search, reported that one of the latest clues, an oil slick in the search area, was “not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid.”

The agency also reported Thursday that the underwater search area has been “significantly narrowed through detailed acoustic analysis conducted on the four signal detections”. These pings are believed to have come from the emergency beacons that are intended to help searchers locate a plane’s black box.

The new analysis “has allowed the definition of a reduced and more focused underwater search area” and the agency called it “the best lead” it has, saying that the underwater search efforts will be “pursued to their completion” in order to “confirm or discount the area as the final resting place of MH370.”

The multi-nation search party, led by Australia, has spent tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of the missing Boeing 777 jetliner and the nature of the search is likely to change dramatically in the next few days.

As has been the case in the past few weeks, a number of military aircraft, civilian aircraft, and ships are participating in the air and sea search Thursday, possibly one of the last times this will take place as the focus of the hunt moves underwater.

The greatest obstacle is the fact that the search area, known as Wharton Basin, has not been mapped in over 50 years.  While it is believed to be mostly flat, it has some significant drops, as the Bluefin 21, an autonomous underwater vehicle tasked with the search of the sea floor, found out at the start of the week.

Unlike the search area, most of the ocean floor in the Northern Hemisphere is reasonably well mapped.

After completing six hours of its 16-hour mission, the Bluefin 21 exceeded its operating depth of 4,500 meters or almost 15,000 feet and its built in safety feature returned it to the surface” automatically, according to a statement released by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is managing the search effort, “.   The Bluefin has continued to search the area in the meantime but an analysis of the data is has captured has not revealed any wreckage.

Without physical evidence, many relatives of the passengers and crew members on board the ill-fated flight are loath to accept the pronouncement by Malaysia Airlines last month that there were no survivors.  The mistrust of the Malaysian government has only grown on the part of its citizens given the inconsistent and contradictory information it handed out in the first few weeks after the crash.

Meanwhile, Australian officials remain confident that they are searching in the correct area, despite the lack of physical evidence.

(Map: Joint Agency Coordination Centre)



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