17 June 2014
Scientists from British company Inmarsat tell BBC that Australian vessel was distracted by bogus signals
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is yet to target the most likely crash site, having been distracted by what is now believed to have been a bogus signal, satellite experts have claimed.
Scientists from Inmarsat, the British company that has been helping the search effort, told the BBC’s Horizon programme there was a “hotspot” in the southern Indian Ocean in which it most likely came down.
The flight lost contact with air traffic controllers on 8 March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with total of 239 passengers and crew on board.
Hourly pings sent by the plane were received by Inmarsat’s spacecraft, leading scientists to calculate its likely path.
Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield was dispatched to investigate, but before reaching the likely site, began to detect a signal that it believed was coming from the plane’s black box, Inmarsat told the BBC programme.
Two months were spent searching 850sq km of sea bed north west of Perth, but the source of the “pings” was not found and a submersible robot found no evidence of the airliner.
“It was by no means an unrealistic location but it was further to the north east than our area of highest probability,” Chris Ashton at Inmarsat told Horizon.
Experts from the satellite firm modelled the most likely flight path using the hourly pings and assuming a speed and heading consistent with the plane being flown by autopilot.
“We can identify a path that matches exactly with all those frequency measurements and with the timing measurements and lands on the final arc at a particular location, which then gives us a sort of a hotspot area on the final arc where we believe the most likely area is,” explained Ashton.
After coming under criticism from relatives over the futile search, Malaysia’s civil aviation authority and Inmarsat last month decided to release the raw data.
However, its complexity has led to few independent conclusions being drawn about the likely crash site.
Malaysian Selamat Umar, whose son Mohamad Khairul Amri was on the ill-fated jetliner, questioned the motives behind the data release.
“I am not convinced at all by the data,” he said. Why are they releasing it now? Before when we asked for it, they did not want to release it. What can we do with it now?
“I think they could have made some changes to the data,” Selamat, 60, added.