The missing Malaysia Airlines plane hasn’t been found but a report from the Australian government says that the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean as the search for wreckage resumed this week.
Flight MH370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China on March 8 with 239 passengers on board.
The disappearance sparked a widespread hunt fore the plane, involving numerous countries.
The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau said in an interim report (pdf) published this week that the flight went into a slow left turn and spiraled into the Indian Ocean when its fuel ran out.
The report was based off of investigations of the different scenarios that could have happened, including flight simulations, and concluded that the plane entered “a descending spiraling low bank angle left turn” and hit the ocean “a relatively short distance after the last engine flameout.”
Crews looking for wreckage of the plane returned to work this week after the search was put on hold for several months while Australian authorities mapped the seafloor in the southern Indian Ocean.
GO Phoenix is one of multiple ships that will be involved in the rebooted search. It marked the reboot when it began sonar sweeps of the ocean floor on Monday, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The ship began its mission toward the southernmost end of an area covering about (60,000 square kilometers–that the search previously focused on, according to Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The search has shifted south as investigators, including the safety bureau, concluded that the Boeing 777 went faster and lew farther than projected by many earlier analyses. The shift involves more obstacles because the ocean is deeper and more remote, and storms tend to be more violent. Two other ships were being outfitted with proper equipment, with the aim of setting sail by next week.
David Gallo, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who worked on finding Air France flight 447, noted the difficulty of finding the missing vessel.
“It’s like looking for two shoeboxes in the Rocky Mountains at night using a flashlight,” he said.
He also explained how the sonar sweep works, through an instrument that’s called a sled, or a sonar device lowered on a very long cable.
“So you can imagine a cable now that has to be three or four miles long worked back and forth across that terrain trying to pick up something that doesn’t belong there,” he told NPR. “And the sound that bounces back forms a sort of an image of the undersea world. And today, those sonars can produce spectacular images.”
The images are detailed.
“We used them on Titanic. And you can see very small things. And you could pick up something as small as an ice bucket easily at about a half a mile’s distance. So you can make very accurate maps of the seafloor. The trick would be though, in mountainous areas where there’s landslides and things like that, just to pick out the bits of an aircraft against that kind of a background, which is not so easy,” Gallo said.
He acknowledged the biggest difficulty is that the search area is so big.
“I think that if there’s one Achilles’ heel about this whole thing is that is this the right haystack. You know, they’ve got a haystack now that’s huge. And it’s almost a ribbon of seafloor that extends hundreds of miles. And so, you know, the only way to know if they’re right or not is to actually find the aircraft. It’s a horrible situation to be in. So you’ve got to hope for the best–that the plane is found.”
Meanwhile, a senior manager at Emirates airline has questioned the situation of the missing plane.
“My own view is that probably control was taken of that airplane,” he told Spiegel.
“It’s anybody’s guess who did what. We need to know who was on the plane in the detail that obviously some people do know. We need to know what was in the hold of the aircraft. And we need to continue to press all those who were involved in the analysis of what happened for more information.
“I do not subscribe to the view that the Boeing 777, which is one of the most advanced in the world and has the most advanced communication platforms, needs to be improved with the introduction of some kind of additional tracking system. MH 370 should never have been allowed to enter a non-trackable situation.”
Clark noted that the transponders, tracking devices that are under the control of the flight deck, should not be allowed to be turned off but that if they are turned off, that shouldn’t mean that an aircraft becomes untrackable.
“The other means of constantly monitoring the progress of an aircraft is ACARS [Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System]. It is designed primarily for companies to monitor what its planes are doing. We use it to monitor aircraft systems and engine performance. At Emirates, we track every single aircraft from the ground, every component and engine of the aircraft at any point on the planet. Very often, we are able to track systemic faults before the pilots do,” he said.
“Disabling it is no simple thing and our pilots are not trained to do so. But on flight MH 370, this thing was somehow disabled, to the degree that the ground tracking capability was eliminated. We must find systems to allow ACARS to continue uninterrupted, irrespective of who is controlling the aircraft. If you have that, with the satellite constellations that we have today even in remote ocean regions, we still have monitoring capability. So you don’t have to introduce additional tracking systems.”