MH370 Disappearance 10 Years Later: Can We Still Find It?

The conversationIt has been ten years since Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014. To this day, it remains one of the greatest aviation mysteries worldwide.

It is unthinkable that a modern Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with 239 people on board can simply disappear without any explanation. Yet multiple searches over the past decade have still not turned up the largest wreckage or the bodies of the victims.

At a commemorative event earlier this week, Malaysia’s transport minister announced a renewed push for a new search.

If approved by the Malaysian government, the research will be carried out by US seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity, whose efforts were unsuccessful in 2018.

What happened to MH370?

The flight was scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Air traffic control lost contact with the plane within 60 minutes of the flight over the South China Sea.

It was then tracked by military radar crossing the Malay Peninsula and last by radar located over the Andaman Sea in the northeastern Indian Ocean.

The initial search area for Malaysia Flight 370 in Southeast Asia (March 8-16)

The planned route, final route and initial search area for MH370 in Southeast Asia.

Later, automated satellite communications between the aircraft and the British company’s Inmarsat telecommunications satellite indicated that the aircraft had ended up in the southeastern Indian Ocean along the 7th arc (an arc is a series of coordinates).

This became the basis for defining the first search areas by the Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau. The first aerial searches were conducted in the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea.

To this day, we still don’t know what caused the plane’s change in course and disappearance.

What have searches for MH370 revealed so far?

On March 18, 2014, ten days after the disappearance of MH370, a search operation in the southern Indian Ocean was led by Australia, with the participation of aircraft from several countries. This search lasted until April 28 and covered an area of ​​4,500,000 square kilometers (1,737,460 sq mi) of ocean. No debris was found.

Two underwater searches in the Indian Ocean, 2,800 km (1,740 miles) off the coast of Western Australia, also failed to find any evidence of the main crash site.

The first search of the seabed, led by Australia, covered 120,000 square kilometers (46,332 sq mi) and extended 50 nautical miles across the 7th arc. It lasted 1,046 days and was suspended on January 17, 2017.

A second search by Ocean Infinity in 2018 covered more than 112,000 square kilometers (43,243 sq mi). It was completed in just over three months, but the wreckage could also not be located.

What about debris?

Although the main crash site has still not been found, several pieces of debris have washed up in the years since the flight disappeared.

In June 2015, officials from the Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau determined that debris could arrive in Sumatra, in contrast to the region’s ocean currents.

The strongest current in the Indian Ocean is the South Equatorial Current. It flows east to west between northern Australia and Madagascar, and debris could cross it.

On July 30, 2015, a large piece of debris – a flaperon (moving part of an aircraft wing) – washed up on the island of Réunion in the western Indian Ocean. It was later confirmed that it belonged to MH370.

Twelve months earlier, our modeling team at the University of Western Australia (UWA) had predicted that all the debris from the 7th arc would end up in the western Indian Ocean using an oceanographic drift model.

In the following months, additional aircraft debris was found in the western Indian Ocean in Mauritius, Tanzania, Rodrigues, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa.

The UWA drift analysis accurately predicted where floating debris from MH370 would beach itself in the western Indian Ocean. It also helped American adventurer Blaine Gibson and others immediately recover several dozen pieces of debris, three of which are confirmed to be from MH370, while several others are considered likely.

So far, these debris finds in the western Indian Ocean are the only physical evidence found relating to MH370.

It is also an independent verification that the crash occurred close to the 7th arc, as all the debris would initially flow north and then west, transported by prevailing ocean currents. These results are consistent with other drift studies conducted by independent researchers worldwide.

Why a new search for MH370 now?

Unfortunately, the ocean is a chaotic place, and even oceanographic drift models cannot pinpoint the exact location of the crash site.

The proposed new search by Ocean Infinity has significantly narrowed the target area within latitudes 36°S and 33°S. This is approximately 50 km (31 mi) south of the locations where UWA modeling indicated debris release along the 7th arc. If the search does not locate the wreck, it may be extended north.

Since the first underwater explorations, technology has improved enormously. Ocean Infinity uses a fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles with enhanced resolution. The proposed search will also use remotely piloted surface vessels.

In the area where the search will take place, the ocean is approximately 4,000 meters deep. Water temperatures are 1–2°C (33.8–35.6°F), with low currents. This means that the debris field would still be relatively intact even after ten years.

There is therefore a good chance that the wreck can still be found. If a future search is successful, it would exclude not only the families of those killed, but also the thousands of people involved in the search efforts.The conversation

Charitha PattiaratchiProfessor of Coastal Oceanography, The University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *