The search for MH370 continues
An RAN Sikorsky S-70B2 Seahawk is loaded aboard an RAAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, NSW, for transport to RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia, from where the search is being coordinated. The Seahawk was then transported to the search area by Anzac-class frigate HMAS Toowoomba.
Not much has changed from last month’s report on the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines B777-200ER carrying 239 passengers and crew. On 3 April the focus moved under the surface of the southern Indian Ocean, west of Perth, as crews started underwater searching for possible locator pings being emitted by the B777’s CVR and FDR, with only days left before batteries powering their beacons were set to run out.
Experts assessed battery life to be as little as 20 days, depending on when they were last checked or changed, but the head of Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, Angus Houston, said they were using the towed pinger locator from the US Navy on an Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield and similar capability from HMS Echo.
The two ships began to search a single 240km track converging on each other. The search was slow, with the towing ships travelling at 2–3kt, listening for a 37.5kHz signal repeating every second with a detection range of 1.8km.
The zone was determined using analysis based on data about the plane’s flight path. Recovering the data and cockpit voice recorders would help to decipher the aircraft’s movements and pilots’ actions in the air after contact was lost with the B777 on 8 March.
The Malaysian authorities have said the aircraft was apparently deliberately steered away from its planned flight path to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, with the journey ending in the southern Indian Ocean. Investigators have relied on limited contact between MH370 and an Inmarsat satellite to draw up possible paths the plane took after it vanished from civilian radar.
Aircraft and ships from Australia, Malaysia, China, the USA, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan have been involved in the search, which has turned into a very costly exercise for everyone.
The first 5 Squadron RNZAF crew flying a P-3K2 Orion was rotated out of Perth on 27–28 March, having completed a total of 106.8hr, including transit flying. The RNZAF task started during the Orion’s flight from Darwin to Penang, Malaysia, followed by three searches out of Penang before moving to Pearce Air Force Base, Perth.
After spending 36.2hr over the Indian Ocean search zone which at the time was over 2000km from Perth, the flight crew was changed, with the Orion and another crew continuing as part of the international effort. On 1 April an Australian RAAF E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft was deployed to help coordinate the search effort — its first operational sortie.
The US military has spent more than $US3.3m ($3.83m) on its role in the multinational hunt and may spend as much as $US8m before the search ends.
The mystery continues — was it a deliberate action by someone on board?
The first — and possibly the only — real breaking news since the aircraft loss came on the morning of Sunday 6 April, 29 days after its disappearance. The news started as tweets from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, saying a Chinese patrol ship looking for signs of the B777 in the southern Indian Ocean had recorded a pulse signal with a frequency of 37.5kHz, detected with a handheld acoustic detector deployed from Haixun 01.
The signal was reportedly detected at 25degS 101degE, about 1500km northwest of Perth, with the Indian Ocean depth at this point around 4500m. The signal was said to be outside the official search area, but the Chinese had started searching in that area a few days earlier. Floating objects were said to have been sighted around 90km from the new detection area.
During a Perth press conference on 6 April, it was confirmed that another acoustic event was also being investigated north of the Chinese investigation area by ADV Ocean Shield. This had been heard some 90min before the press conference that was being held to confirm the possible Chinese events.
This event, some 300nm north, became the news on 7 April as the possible area of the final resting place of MH370. ADV Ocean Shield had positive acoustic information from the recorders, detecting signals from the depths of the Indian Ocean from several passes, with one pass showing two recorders that still had active batteries. This site is around 1680km northwest of Perth.
The biggest aviation mystery has now entered a new phase — but is it really down there, how far down is it, and can anything be raised from a probable 4500m depth? The unsolved mystery may go on for months or even years — or it just might be too deep.
- Report by Peter Clark, photographs by Janine Fabre/Australian Defence Force and Royal Australian Navy
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