Who is holding up satellite info in MH370 search?


The Malay Mail Online
March 24, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Satellite data allowed the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that once spanned 30 million sq km to be whittled down to 68,000 sq km, but open questions exist over why authorities took so long to make this discovery.

The current search area some 2,500km southwest of Perth in Western Australia was calculated by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Australia using data provided by commercial satellite firm Inmarsat, according to a Washington Post report yesterday.

But the data between Inmarsat and the missing Boeing 777-200ER is the same that allowed Malaysian authorities to announce on March 15 that the plane could be in one of two corridors: a northern arc from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in central Asia, or a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The latter corridor is where Australia said satellite images of debris possibly related to MH370 was found. Since then, China and France have provided additional data of other sightings in the area.

“Why it took the experts in Canberra and Washington so long to get their heads together is another open question, and not one that be entirely explained by Malaysian foot-dragging,” the Washington Post said in its report yesterday

“Compared to the first week, the progress since March 18 has been blazing (if investigators are indeed on the right track). You can see below how quickly searchers have begun narrowing down their target area, each day following where they think ocean currents are moving debris.”

Much of the initial criticism of Malaysia stemmed from the revelation that Inmarsat ― whose geosynchronous satellite over the Indian Ocean was vital in helping rescuers narrow down the search ― discovered the communications with MH370 and calculated its possible arcs on March 9, one day after the plane vanished.

Malaysia later explained that the information only came into its hands on March 12, and that US investigators then sought for it to be sent to their home country for “further processing”.

“Initial results were received on Thursday 13th March at approximately 13:30, but it was agreed by the US team and the investigations team that further refinement was needed, so the data was again sent back to the US,” Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement on Friday.

It was also not until the next evening that Malaysia received the vetted findings, which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak then announced the next day.

While the information helped shed light on the possible locations of the missing plane, it also angered families and countries of those aboard MH370 who felt Malaysia had wasted valuable time and resources conducting search operations in areas that satellite data showed did not contain the plane.

And after the initial euphoria of Australia’s announcement last week, the same questions about the pace that information is being added to the investigation are now being asked.

“The Australian search area was still nearly the size of Texas, but it was now of a size that searchers and satellites could start to focus on more productively.

“But there is still a question of why it took two weeks to get from Inmarsat’s calculations on March 9 ― one day after the plane disappeared ― to the corner of the southern Indian Ocean being scoured right now,” the Washington Post added.

MH370 and the 239 people on board disappeared less than an hour after the Beijing-bound flight left Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41am on March 8. The plane and its passengers remain missing despite over two weeks of intensive searching by a multinational effort.

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