IN FOCUS: MH370 search update

This story is sourced from Flight International
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Based on the observed first part of Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH370, Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said that the focus remains on deliberate action as the cause of the Boeing 777-200ER’s deviation from its planned flight path and subsequent disappearance.

The last confirmed sighting of the aircraft was on Malaysian military radar to the west of the Malaysian peninsula about 90min after its 8 March take-off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing.

Since then, a number of potential sightings of the aircraft have emerged and been rapidly dismissed – for instance on 19 March an alleged eyewitness report from the Maldive Islands of a low-flying passenger jet was discredited by the Malaysian investigators. Then, on 20 March, a satellite sighting of debris off western Australia was described by the Malaysian authorities as “credible”, but as Flight International went to press there had been no location or verification of the object by a fleet of ships and aircraft dispatched to find the more than 20m (65ft) long object.

Assets allocated by a multi-national search force co-ordinated via Malaysia with US National Transportation Safety Board advice include 18 ships and 29 aircraft, according to official sources in Malaysia. They face a problem of where to concentrate efforts. By 20 March attention was being diverted away from the “northern corridor” – one of two sweeping arcs defined on 15 March by satellite communications data – which would mostly have involved overland searches. The focus has shifted toward the oceanic south, but without allocating unreasonable resources to the far south in case of another false alarm.

Australiah has deployed four aircraft – three Lockheed Martin P-3 Orions and a Boeing P-8 – to the area, some 1,350nm (2,500km) southwest of Perth. A C-130 was also dispatched to deploy marker buoys to assist with ocean current drift modelling. Rapid deployment of such buoys was one of the recommendations which emerged after the loss of Air France flight AF447 over the South Atlantic in 2009.

Poor visibility in the area will complicate search efforts, says the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). John Young, general manager of AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre – Australia, says that satellite pictures analysed by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) have identified two objects, one of which is 24m in size. “This is close enough to the National Transportation Safety Board’s assessed area to be a possible sighting, and we want to find them and want to work out what they are,” he said on 20 March. "This is a lead. It is probably the best lead we have right now, but we need to get there."

Although the location is within the southern corridor identified earlier, it is at the limit of MH370's range, given the likely amount of fuel remaining on board.