Latest on Missing Flight MH370 Tragedy: A week to go before black box signal vanishes

KUALA LUMPUR: Its been 24 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared and the authorities now have about a week to find the phsyical evidence, especially the ‘black box’ as signals from the recorder will fade out soon.

The signals emitted from the black box is powered by batteries that will die out after 30 days, and it will be difficult for the search operation to trace it without a signal, especially in a vast area like the Indian Ocean.
 
The multi-national search operation has identified an area of 254,000 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean, about 1,850km west of Perth, Australia, as where the plane likely went down. 
 
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein today said ten including one civilian aircraft and 10 ships had travelled to the search area to find debris that may be related to the plane.
 
If they can locate the debris and confirm they were from the plane, it may help the search team to narrow the search area to find the black box.
 
However, with arrival of the vessel Ocean Shield, which is fitted with a towed pinger locator and a Bluefin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle on Thursday in the search area, it is hoped the ship can detect the black box.
 
radarblip-Copy Latest on Missing Flight MH370 Tragedy: A week to go before black box signal vanishes
   
Hishammuddin said in terms of sightings of potential objects, on Saturday, five objects were retrieved by the Australian navy’s  warship 0HMAS Success and Haixun, a ship from China.   
 
“However, it was found that none of these objects were related to MH370,” he told a media conference on the latest developments on the search mission for MH370 here today.
 
On March 24, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had announced that (the flight path of) Flight MH370 ended in a remote region of the southern Indian Ocean based on detailed analyses of satellite data.
 
Najib also will be visiting Perth, Australia this Wednesday to see first hand the search operation for the missing aircraft in the Indian Ocean. 
   
“Our Prime Minister has decided to travel to Perth on Wednesday for a working visit to Pearce Air force base (in Perth), to see the operation first hand and also to thank the personnel involved in the multinational search effort, including the Malaysian personnel,” Hishammuddin said.
 
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) code share partner China Southern Airlines has agreed to cooperate with MAS in giving aid to families of passengers of the ill-fated flight , said MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.
   
He said MAS, however, shouldered a heavier burden because the missing aircraft belonged to the airline.   
   
Flight MH370 was also marketed as Flight CZ748 by China Southern Airlines and there were passengers (on board) holding the Chinese airline company’s tickets.
 
Flight MH370, carrying 227 passengers including 152 China nationals and 12 crew, left the KL International Airport at 12.41 am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea. It was to have landed in Beijing at 6.30 am on the same day.
 
A multinational search was mounted for the aircraft, first in the South China Sea and then, after it was learned that the plane had veered off course, along two corridors – the northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and the southern corridor, from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
 
Following an unprecedented type of analysis of satellite data, United Kingdom satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) concluded that Flight MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia. 
 
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak then announced on March 24, seventeen days after the disappearance of Boeing 777-200 aircraft, that Flight MH370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”. The search continues there. – BERNAMA

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Search reveals extent of ocean garbage

The search for Malaysia Flight 370 is complicated by the wide spread of ocean garbage, much of which looks just like plane crash debris in satellite images.

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has turned up a lot of debris. Unfortunately, so far at least, none of it appears to belong to the missing Boeing 777.

Vast quantities of trash bobbing around the ocean have made the Sisyphean search for wreckage from Flight 370 all the more complicated.

In the weeks since the March 8 disappearance of the plane, searchers have darted about the Indian Ocean, following evolving analyses of radar data and potential clues offered by satellite imagery.

Unfortunately, garbage floating on the ocean waves looks an awful lot like plane debris, says Malcom Spaulding, a former oceanography professor at the University of Rhode Island who has been involved in search and rescues since the 1970s.

“We essentially have had satellite-based images that give us tantalizing information that there might be a debris field,” says Mr. Spaulding. “But we don’t know whether anything in the debris field is associated with the accident.”

One of the major problems is that the ocean is littered with similar debris fields that resemble the expected scatter pattern of a crash, says Seattle oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, who studies sea-bound trash.

“Everything that humanity does is reflected in the debris out there,” Mr. Ebbsmeyer says.

Household garbage, remnants of space shuttle rocket boosters, spilled contents of shipping containers, and lost fishing equipment traverse the globe on the oceans’ currents, he says.

The region’s currents run from the Cape of Good Hope across the Indian Ocean to the Western Australian coast, and north toward India before doubling back to Africa near Ethiopia and returning to the Cape of Good Hope, he says. It takes about three years to complete the circle.

Ebbsmeyer likens the ocean and it’s currents to a mixing bowl filled with cake batter.

“If you just stir slowly, you are going to wind up with patches of powdery stuff,” he explains. “We’re all used to [electric mixers], but the ocean is basically like your wooden mixing spoon going slowly.”

As a result, the ocean accumulates patches of debris. Some are massive and become islands unto themselves.

“Above each garbage patch, there are winds that circle around and push the debris into the center,” he explains. “It’s the winds that drive the ocean, but they can’t mix it so they basically just collect it.”

The largest of these floating garbage dumps is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is located about halfway between Hawaii and San Francisco. Scientists have found that birds living on Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are eating that garbage. Scientists discovered a piece of wreckage from a 1944 plane crash in the stomach of an albatross in 2004.

Scientists identified a similar patch in the Southern Indian Ocean in 2010. There are also hundreds of “little nano garbage patches” floating around the Indian Ocean, Ebbsmeyer says.

Every time satellites find a new debris patch, searchers have to establish “ground truth,” essentially hop in a boat and head to the area to confirm that what the satellite depicted is as it appears.

If they can find it, that is. Frequently, by the time boats can get to the new area, the objects spotted on the satellite image have floated away or sank.

Last week, a French defense contractor satellite spotted a debris field containing 122 objects, including a 75-foot-long piece of something that commentators surmised could be the wing of a plane. Searchers systematically trawled the area but turned up nothing.

While large portions of wrecks have been recovered in the past – search teams recovered the tail fin of Air France Flight 227, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 – more often, planes disintegrate into small pieces when they hit the water, says Robert Benzon, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator who led the 1996 investigation into the crash of TWA flight 800 in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The TWA plane plunged into the ocean from 13,000 feet and the wings shattered. They were in hundreds of pieces,” he says. “Anything’s possible, but a piece that large would surprise me.”

That leaves the question, What was that 75-foot-long object?

It could be any number of things, Ebbsmeyer says.

“A typical cargo container is 40 feet long and it will float for up to 9 months. It could be a yacht that’s turned over,” he speculates. “Sometimes there are rocket launchers that go into the ocean.”

Assuming the plane did break into small pieces, the debris field is probably spreading wider and thinner with each passing day. Ebbsmeyer estimates that the debris patch is probably more than 20 miles in diameter and spreading, based on his studies of container spills.

“The debris is going to become less concentrated and harder to spot,” he says. “There’s no doubt that pieces of plastic from this wreck will float for decades, but they’ll become just part of all the other plastic which is not identifiable.”

Even if search teams are able to recover floating debris, chances are it is not hovering in place directly above the wreckage. Finding the main debris field and the flight recorder could take additional weeks of searching with automated underwater vehicles (AUV), Spaulding says.

The US Navy’s Bluefin-21 AUV can help provide searchers a view of the sea floor using side scan sonar technology. However, the ocean floor can be just as littered with debris as the sea surface, NTSB’s Mr. Benzon says.

When searching for TWA Flight 800, “we found a lot of stuff on the bottom of the ocean here that had nothing to do with the accident, including wrecks from other crashes,” he says. “The bottom of the ocean a lot of times isn’t as clean as everybody thinks it is. Even when they get down there, they may have their work cut out for them.”