The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released two new reports that analysed data gathered during the surface search for Malaysia Airlines MH370.
The reports, prepared by Geoscience Australia and the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), analysed satellite imagery taken on 23 March 2014 – two weeks after the Boeing 777-200ER went missing over the Southern Indian Ocean.
The area captured by the imagery was not searched from the air, but is close to the underwater search area for the missing aircraft, says the ATSB. The images were taken just west of the seventh arc in the vicinity of the new search area proposed by ATSB in 2016.
Experts from Geoscience Australia examined the images and classified 12 out of 70 identified objects as "probably man-made". The image resolution is however not high enough to ascertain whether the objects originated from MH370, says ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood.
A drift study by CSIRO found that the projected location of the objects identified in most of the satellite images is consistent with the area identified by experts in the "First Principles Review' report released last November. The review had identified a new area where the aircraft was likely to have come down, outside of the 120,000 square kilometer primary search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
"Taking drift model uncertainty into account, we have found that the objects identified in most of the images can be associated with a single location within the previously-identified region suggested by other lines of evidence. Furthermore we think it is possible to identify a most-likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty," says the CSIRO study.
It pointed to 35.6°S, 92.8°E, adding that nearby locations to the east of the seventh arc and a range of locations on the western side of the arc are also possible.
"Clearly we must be cautious," says Hood. "These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris."
He adds the information in the reports may be useful for further search effort, but that Malaysia retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search of the aircraft. The search for the missing aircraft concluded in January.
MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 while enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.