Af­ter two years, MH370 still likely north of search area

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

For two years, a hand­ful of ships have dili­gently combed a re­mote patch of the In­dian Ocean west of Aus­tralia in a $160 mil­lion bid to find Malaysia Air­lines Flight 370. Yes­ter­day, in­ves­ti­ga­tors made what was surely a painful ad­mis­sion: They have prob­a­bly been look­ing in the wrong place.

The lat­est anal­y­sis by a team of in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded the van­ished Boe­ing 777 is highly un­likely to be in the cur­rent search zone and may in­stead be in a re­gion far­ther north. But though crews are ex­pected to fin­ish their deep-sea sonar hunt of the cur­rent search area next month, the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­tend­ing the search to the north ap­peared doubt­ful, with Aus­tralia’s trans­port min­is­ter sug­gest­ing the anal­y­sis wasn’t spe­cific enough to jus­tify con­tin­u­ing the hunt. The lat­est twist in the search for Flight 370 high­lights the ex­tra­or­di­nary dif­fi­culty of­fi­cials have faced in their at­tempts to find the air­craft based on the faintest scraps of data. All along, of­fi­cials have said they are not sim­ply look­ing for a nee­dle in a haystack they are look­ing for the haystack.

Yes­ter­day, the haystack was poised to shift again, with the re­lease of a re­port by the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau, which is lead­ing the search for the plane. The re­port is the re­sult of a Novem­ber meet­ing of in­ter­na­tional and Aus­tralian ex­perts who re-ex­am­ined all the data used to de­fine the search area for the air­craft, which van­ished dur­ing a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 peo­ple on board.

Since the plane dis­ap­peared, ex­perts have an­a­lyzed a se­ries of ex­changes be­tween the air­craft and a satel­lite to es­ti­mate a prob­a­ble crash site along a vast arc of ocean in the south­ern hemi­sphere. A deep-sea search of a 120,000-square kilo­me­ter stretch of water along the arc has so far come up empty.

Early stages of the hunt

In Novem­ber, the ex­perts went back over the satel­lite data, along with the re­sults of a new ocean drift anal­y­sis of the more than 20 items of de­bris likely to have come from the plane that have washed ashore on beaches through­out the In­dian Ocean. The anal­y­sis, based on where the items washed up and when, sug­gested the de­bris orig­i­nated far­ther north along the arc from the cur­rent search zone. Given the num­ber of air­craft parts found so far, the team con­cluded that a de­bris field had floated on the water sur­face af­ter the plane crashed. So they elim­i­nated ar­eas of the ocean where air crews had searched the sur­face in the early stages of the hunt. That left a 25,000-square-kilo­me­ter area im­me­di­ately to the north of the cur­rent search zone as the most likely place where the plane hit the ocean, the re­port said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded with “a high de­gree of con­fi­dence” that the plane is not in the cur­rent search area. And they agreed the new area needs to be searched. “The ex­perts con­cluded that, if this area were to be searched, prospec­tive ar­eas for lo­cat­ing the air­craft wreck­age, based on all the anal­y­sis to date, would be ex­hausted,” the re­port said.

How­ever, a new search would re­quire fresh fund­ing. The coun­tries in­volved - Malaysia, Aus­tralia and China - agreed in July that the $160 mil­lion search will be sus­pended once the cur­rent ef­fort is ex­hausted un­less new ev­i­dence pin­points the plane’s ex­act lo­ca­tion. Aus­tralian Trans­port Min­is­ter Dar­ren Ch­ester sug­gested an ex­ten­sion was un­likely, not­ing that the lat­est re­port does not give a spe­cific lo­ca­tion of the plane.

“As agreed at the Tri­par­tite Min­is­ters meet­ing in Malaysia in July we will be sus­pend­ing the search un­less cred­i­ble ev­i­dence is avail­able that iden­ti­fies the spe­cific lo­ca­tion of the air­craft,” Ch­ester said in a state­ment. “The search for MH370 has been the largest in avi­a­tion his­tory and has tested the lim­its of tech­nol­ogy, and the ca­pac­ity of our ex­perts and peo­ple at sea.” Malaysia’s Trans­port Min­is­ter Liow Tiong Lai did not ex­plic­itly rule out a new search, but said in a state­ment, “We re­main to be guided as to how this can be used to as­sist us in iden­ti­fy­ing the spe­cific lo­ca­tion of the air­craft.” When asked about the search, a Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesper­son did not com­ment be­yond not­ing China’s role in the ef­fort so far. Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment oceanog­ra­pher David Grif­fin, who worked on the anal­y­sis of how the de­bris drifted, said he is con­fi­dent the plane is in the newly iden­ti­fied search area. And he dis­missed the idea that the new anal­y­sis means the search to date has been a wasted ef­fort, say­ing that the cur­rent search zone was based on the best avail­able data at the time.— AP

In this file photo taken from a Royal New Zealand Air­force (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion air­craft on April 13, 2014 shows co-pi­lot and Squadron Leader Brett McKen­zie help­ing to look for ob­jects dur­ing the search for miss­ing Malaysia Air­lines flight MH370, off Perth in Western Aus­tralia. — AFP

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