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  • OPINION: Evidence, not emotion, should steer the search for MH370

OPINION: Evidence, not emotion, should steer the search for MH370

For two centuries a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia has lured treasure-seekers convinced that a fortune is buried in a deep hollow within its shores.

The legend of the Oak Island money pit has proven irresistible to explorers, convinced by tentative evidence that something of extraordinary value lies beneath its soil, undeterred by the fruitless – and costly – searches of their predecessors.

That the team hunting for the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 knows, at least, that the aircraft's wreckage exists does not invalidate the lesson that accurate intelligence is everything.

Oak Island covers an area of barely half a square kilometre. The primary search area for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, scoured for more than two years, was nearly a quarter of a million times larger.

The scale of the numbers underscores the crucial need for reliable information.

Suspension of the search earlier this year brought understandable, if misplaced, condemnation from representatives of those lost when MH370 disappeared in March 2014. And the Voice370 group recently questioned the Malaysian government's commitment to the search, asking why it had apparently not acted on an offer by US specialists to revive the hunt for MH370 on the basis of a fee contingent upon success.

Malaysia's transport minister, the group pointed out, had repeatedly insisted that a lack of funds for the search had "never been an issue".

But this is an unreasonable interpretation. There is a vast difference between funding an expensive, but worthwhile, exercise, and pouring resources into a venture based on guesswork and optimism that would leave the whole MH370 effort open to accusations of being undisciplined and rudderless.

The latest technical analysis from the investigation, released just a few days after Voice370 expressed its frustration, illustrates the point.

Images from Airbus's Pleiades-1A satellite, taken 15 days after MH370 vanished en route to Beijing, might indicate the presence of aircraft debris. This, combined with extensive drift modelling, has enabled investigators to submit the boldest of claims – a strong contender for the impact point; saying, in essence, that X marks the spot.

Search teams have yet to decide whether this evidence is sufficient to tilt the balance in favour of relaunching the ships. Because such a decision cannot be taken on a whim, regardless of pressure from those with emotional investment. Oceanic exploration is hazardous, and the risks involved – as some of those drawn to Oak Island to the money pit discovered – are not limited to the financial.

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