What now, two years after flight MH370 disappeared
The debris that was found on a sandbank last week in Mozambique has been shipped to Australia to be tested.
The confirmation of the wreckage is from the aircraft confirmed military radar data that indicated flight MH370 had diverted from its planned route and flew across the peninsula of Malaysia, then over the Indian Ocean. It is not clear why it shifted.
Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia early on the morning of March 8, 2014. After a couple of hours, the plane lost contact with air traffic control and vanished from radar.
An initial search of the route that was scheduled to take the plane to China has been diverted after an investigation of the satellite pings revealed that the flight most likely ended up in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia.
Since then, the Australian search has continued, but there is no indication of where exactly the aircraft’s flight ended. Is it time to stop the search after two years?
Fugro Equator is one of the search vessels in rough seas near the search area on the southern Indian Ocean. Australian Transport Safety Bureau/Justin Baulch HTML_
The search is over.
So far, 85,000 square kilometers of the 120,000-square-kilometre search zone have been searched. Searchers hope to find the aircraft in the remaining area.
As the search draws to a close without finding any wreckage, attention turns to the next step. The search should continue, but where?
Many people want to continue their search and learn what happened to this plane. Searchers are faced with a problem.
The analysis of satellite data and the range estimations based on the maximum and minimum fuel burn scenarios place the most probable final resting location of the plane within the current search area.
The latest search area for missing flight MH370. Australian Transport Safety Bureau CC-BY
What do you do next after the area has been searched and found to be unsuccessful?
The current search area will be reviewed in detail. It will be a matter of reviewing all the data and assumptions that led to the current search area to determine if any details were missed, if a belief was incorrect, or if it was too optimistic.
Oceanographers predicted that any floating wreckage from the search area would arrive on the African coast near La Reunion Island at the same time. If the wreckage was not in the search area but is tantalizingly close, then it could be there.
You could continue to search in a racetrack pattern, increasing the area of search until you find the wreckage.
The wreckage may have been missed due to a variety of factors, including the inaccuracy of the search equipment, incorrect assumptions made by the algorithms, or the underwater terrain. It is possible to search for many years without finding it.
If we have checked and rechecked all data, assumptions, and error tolerances and found nothing new, when will we decide, if at all, to look again in that same area?
The relatives of those who were lost in the plane would undoubtedly support the continued search. Many others, however, will argue against the continuation of the search because it will cost hundreds of millions per year.
Some people will say that the money should be spent on developing and implementing new technology applications in order to stop aircraft from disappearing off the radar. Or ensuring that important flight data from the aircraft is transmitted so the need to locate the onboard recorders becomes less critical.
One of many mysteries surrounding flight MH370 concerns the transponder of the aircraft. It was turned off just minutes after a pilot signed off with Malaysian air traffic controllers. Transponders are used to let air traffic control know where an aircraft is located. Turning them off will make the plane disappear.
A very interesting debate is currently raging about whether the pilot or anyone else aboard the plane, should be able to turn off the transponders. If this had been true, flight MH370 could not have disappeared.
One of the long-term safety principles is that the pilots must be able to isolate all electrical circuits in case a failure or fault occurs. If a fault in the transponder led to a fire, a design change that prevents pilots from switching off transponders could introduce a new danger.
There will be no new information to confirm or disprove all the theories that have been made about flight MH370. The theories include hijacked or otherwise, fire in flight, decompression, and others.
Theories will remain in the wreckage or the recorders are not found. The theories are based on assumptions, detailed data and guesstimations. There is little hard evidence to support them.
Air safety professionals would like to know exactly what happened to the aircraft in case a gremlin is lurking somewhere in the system, waiting to strike again. Let’s hope not!