Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Three-Year Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Ends Where It Started: Shrouded in Mystery • Plane vanished from radar en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in 2014 with 239 people on board

The Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 17, 2017 4:29 a.m. ET

CANBERRA, Australia—The nearly three-year search to resolve one of history’s biggest aviation mysteries ended on Tuesday the same way it began: with the barest of clues over what happened to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The Australian government, which led the search with help from China and Malaysia, said the chances of finding the airliner have grown increasingly unlikely amid a lack of credible new evidence, and it declared a withdrawal of the last search vessel and a stop to the hunt.

“Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting edge technology, as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft,” the three governments said. In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said the search had been “thorough and comprehensive” and expressed hope that “new and significant information will come to light and the aircraft would eventually be located.”

Flight 370 vanished from radar en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board from over a dozen countries, including 152 Chinese nationals. That was followed by an endlessly confounding search across thousands of square miles of remote ocean in what became the most expensive in aviation history—about $150 million. The search was impeded by storms and fierce ocean currents.

Family members of the passengers have urged the governments to continue the search regardless of cost, and on Tuesday expressed their disappointment over the governments’ decision.

“It’s their responsibility to find the plane, no matter how much money you will spend,” Steve Wang, a 28-year-old IT worker in Beijing whose mother was aboard the plane. “It’s not about a plane, it’s about 239 lives, and life is worth a lot.”

With the search complete, Australia also plans to release undersea mapping and sonar data to allow companies not involved to re-examine the evidence. No finders’ fee is offered, but the prestige of solving a mystery like Flight 370 appeals to armchair sonographers and companies that make a living salvaging wrecks. Such companies have criticized Australia’s decision not to release the data earlier. Australia said it didn’t because it would be time consuming and distract from the search.

Still, treasure hunters—companies and individuals who make a living exploring the deep for profit—say they are unlikely to pick up where officials left off unless funded by someone with a vested interest, such as the aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing Co., or even a filmmaker making a documentary about the missing plane. Boeing declined to comment.

Flight 370’s presumed resting place is in one of the least-understood places on the globe, a dark, virtually lifeless seabed more than 16,000 feet deep in some places and 1,100 miles off Western Australia. Searching there costs upward of $80,000 a day.

“You’re talking very deep water, really remote,” said David Mearns, an oceanographer whose U.K. firm Blue Water Recoveries helped find the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 after it disappeared in the mid-Atlantic Ocean in 2009. “No one is going to stick their hand in their pockets to fund that on a purely altruistic basis.”

Mr. Mearns’ firm holds the Guinness World Record for the deepest wreck ever discovered: a German World War II blockade runner found in 1996 nearly 18,900 feet below the surface.

On Flight 370, authorities deployed some of the world’s most advanced deep-water technologies—including satellites and sonar devices—without turning up so much as a stray suitcase. The only leads were discovered by happenstance, such as when debris including a piece of aircraft wing washed ashore in southeast Africa.

With Air France Flight 447, investigators found debris on the ocean surface, providing clues of where the plane crashed. The recovery effort still took two more years, delayed by miscalculations over complex drift models. It was eventually found near the plane’s last communicated location.

In the case of Flight 370, investigators didn’t have the benefit of debris or precise final coordinates. Investigators believe the plane wasn’t under human control when it disappeared, based on communications between the aircraft and a satellite. To cover possible scenarios, however, the search area also reflected how far the aircraft could have glided under active pilot control after both engines ran out of fuel—a distance of about 120 miles, said officials.

Unofficial and amateur theories of why the plane disappeared—from terrorism, to a cockpit fire, to a hijacking, to a crew suicide—were never proven.

In the weeks after Flight 370 disappeared, Australian officials said they knew less about the search area than is known about the surface of the moon.

That is still largely the case, officials acknowledge, but they have now mapped the region’s ocean floor. In the process, the search uncovered previously unknown undersea volcanoes and canyons, at least two shipwrecks dating back as far as the 19th century, along with more mundane objects such as discarded oil barrels. The search also lent a greater understanding of cold deep-ocean currents that drive Earth’s climate, said Robin Beaman, an Australian marine geologist.

“As a data set for the global scientific community there is nothing to match it,” Mr. Beaman said.

Any subsequent efforts to search for Flight 370 after the governments “suspended” the mission could focus on a handful of places where sonar experts see unusual objects in the already mapped data, say experts in the field.

“We find a lot of targets by looking at other peoples’ data,” said Rob McCallum, a New Zealander who helped arrange the deep-water search for Air France Flight 447 and film director James Cameron’s record-setting dive to the Marianas Trench, the deepest-known part of the world’s oceans.

Mr. McCallum is a partner at Seattle-based Williamson & Associates, which specializes in using towed sonars. The firm unsuccessfully bid to search for Flight 370 and has wrangled with Australian authorities over an area they consider a probable aircraft debris field, but that officials have dismissed as geological.

Officials said in December they had a “high level” of confidence any debris had not been overlooked by high-resolution sonar scans of the seabed. But they did identify a prospective second search zone north of the existing area, sprawling over an additional 9,653 square miles—roughly a fifth the area already covered.

“If this area were to be searched, prospective areas for locating the aircraft wreckage, based on all the analysis to date, would be exhausted,” search officials concluded in a December report.

For the sake of the victims’ families, Mr. McCallum hopes the mystery can still be resolved, recalling the feeling of returning to port after finding Air France Flight 447 and meeting bereaved relatives.

“I saw the impact on the friends and family of Air France 447 victims, who even though they knew everyone had died two years previously, when we came back to port, the sense of closure was palpable, it was immense,” he said. “I learned a big lesson from that. The pain goes on and on until people know the answer.”

—Te-Ping Chen in Beijing contributed to this article.

Original article and photo gallery:   http://www.wsj.com

NTSB Identification: DCA14RA076
Scheduled 14 CFR Non-U.S., Commercial
Accident occurred Saturday, March 08, 2014 in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia
Aircraft: BOEING 777 - 206, registration:
Injuries: 239 Fatal.

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

The Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has notified the NTSB of an accident involving a Boeing 777-200 that occurred on March 8, 2014. The NTSB has appointed a U.S. Accredited Representative to assist the Malaysian DCA investigation under the provisions of ICAO Annex 13 as the State of Manufacturer and Design of the airplane.

All investigative information will be released by the Malaysian DCA.

1 comment:

  1. Time to call in the Americans. Give them about 2-4 weeks and they'll find it. And it won't be anywhere near the recent search areas.