Malaysia Airlines Black Box Search Is Narrowing but Is It too Late?

Malaysia Airlines Black Box Search Is Narrowing but Is It too LateNews has just broken that the black box that was on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have been found. Ships are currently rushing to a significantly smaller area where signals have been traced to. But as rescuers rush to search the area in the hopes of confirming that the narrow space does in fact contain a signal coming from the box, the battery life of those same boxes is weakening. Time will tell if the rescue has come too late.

Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbot announced earlier today that he is confident that the recent signals detected are coming from a black box off the MH370 flight. Mr Abbot made his announcement in China, where he is in talks about a trade pact with the nation. Mr Abbot noted that unfortunately, narrowing the search area to locate an approximate location for the black box, and recovering the late wreckage from the plane is not the same thing.  Those who are wishing for an explanation about what happened aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane may be waiting for some time.

However, rescuers could encounter further problems in locating the missing box. The batteries are designed to last for 30 days after the airline crashes, and those 30 days are almost up. The box is designed to send out a “ping” on contact with water. These sounds can be received by a microphone and a “signal analyzer.” They also have another feature that can send out a distress signal, but these do not work in water. However, even if the battery runs out, the data recorded from the last two hours of the flight remains intact.

Other issues are to do with the size of the box, which is not in fact black. Most are orange in color. But they are quite a small object to try to find in an ocean.   The area of ocean that the plane is thought to have crashed into contains a landscape on the sea floor as diverse as a mountain range. All the extra rises and valleys could make it extra hard to find the recorder. It could be compared to attempting to find something that is roughly the same size as a shoebox on the Alps at night.

In order to withstand high pressures,  intense impacts and fire, the boxes have to be strong and heavy. They are said to weigh about 22 pounds. This means that they will sink quickly. This is another element that makes finding the box difficult.

Finally, the range of the “pinger” is  quite shallow. Several submarines with sophisticated and sensitive equipment to listen and locate such items like black boxes have been sent into the area to look for the Malaysia airline plane. But the search is also compounded by the fact that the signal may be bouncing off underwater nooks and crannies that refract the signal, breaking it up into unreadable sections, or reflecting it back to the sea floor again.

Despite the surge in hope at the news that the black box from the Malaysia Airlines plane may have been found, the search is not yet at an end.  With the added problems due to the failing battery life and the size of the recorder, relatives need to be warned not to be overly optimistic.  Still they can hold on to the hope that searchers will not be too late and the mystery about what happened in the moments before the crash will be revealed. Malaysia airlines themselves have yet to comment on the recent developments.

By Sara Watson


NY Times
The Independent

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