It has been 52 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished in midair with 239 people on board. The most expensive search in aviation history so far failed to find any wreckage to solve this mystery. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that most of the debris will have become waterlogged and will have submerged; therefore, visual searches by planes and ships will be suspended. Instead, private contractors will be hired to conduct the underwater search. In one of the most remote places in the world, the great depth of India Ocean presents considerable challenges for the continued search of MH370, requiring technologies beyond military capacities.
On April 5 and April 8, signals that were suspected to be from the black box of MH370 were detected. A 6.2 square miles stretch of seabed was determined, which was considered to have high hope to providing a definite answer to this tragedy. On April 14, the U.S. Navy Bluefin-21 underwater drone was deployed, which searched up to three miles underwater. However, it failed to find any wreckage after 15 missions.
On April 28, a much larger search area, 435 miles by 40 miles, was selected to be the focus of the next phase of the underwater search. A complete examination of the deep ocean floor is doable, but will take six to eight months. In addition, hiring contractors will cost Australia about A$60 million ($55.69 million U.S.), according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Bluefin-21 will continue the search while Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ASTB) engages private contractors.
The intensive search for MH370 has been mainly relying on military forces, and nations have been paying attention to each other’s deployment of high-tech equipment. The high-quality satellite images from the U.S. have been the envy of the world. In March, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft was deployed to support the search. As the largest and most costly aircraft ever built for ASW, it made the headlines.
P-8A is the intended platform for new sonar technology, capable of detecting increasingly elusive submarine targets. Under water, HMS Tireless, a British attack submarine of the Royal Navy, arrived in the southern Indian Ocean in early April. It has extraordinary sensor platforms, which may include the 2076 sonar system. This system is one of the U.K.’s most advanced and classified programs, with highly developed imagery processors and integrated active-passive detection capabilities. Whether Tireless is equipped with 2076 sonar system is uncertain.
The continuous search for MH370 on the ocean floor requires technologies beyond military capacities. Private contractors will provide active and passive sonar searches and submarine technology, which could include a towed sonar such as the 2076 sonar system or even better. The ocean floor is covered in silt with unknown depth. Experts are certain, however, some debris should be on the surface of the silt if the aircraft is on the floor.
On April 28, after Mr. Abbott announced the plan to hire a private contractor for the underwater search phase, GeoResonance, an Adelaide-based exploration company claims to have found a new clue. This company is using technology intended to find submarines and nuclear warheads. GeoResonance is reported to have identified aluminium, titanium, copper, steel alloys and other materials consistent with the material of a Boeing 777, at the Bay of Bengal, which is 312.5 miles from the area the Bluefin-21 has searched since April 14. The company said these materials were not present before MH370 disappeared.
A preliminary report on MH370 was sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. body for global aviation, and will be available to the public next week, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said. Malaysian authorities still consider mechanical problems to be a possibility and there are evidences suggesting a deliberate diversion from its route. The answer to MH370 mystery will only be available after the black box is retrieved in the continuous search, hopefully soon with technologies beyond military capacities.
By: Tina Zhang