After satellite find, 12 questions emerge about MH370

The Malaysian Insider
March 21, 2014

Five days after satellites captured images of debris and objects which may be linked to flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean and a day after the release of those images by the Australian authorities, reports have pieced together questions related to the search for the missing plane in waters 2,500km from Perth.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on March 8 but disappeared en route to Beijing. There were 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board.

This morning, Australia said it would resume the hunt for objects found on the ocean surface.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) general manager John Young said yesterday the largest piece was about 24m. Ships and aircraft from the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand have joined the Australian-led search effort.

Here are the top 12 questions on missing flight MH370:

When will we know whether the debris from the southern Indian Ocean is from flight 370?

The satellite images of the debris taken on Sunday have not been confirmed as MH370 but they are being seen as the best lead in the investigation for the missing plane so far.

Satellites had captured images of the objects about 23km from each other. The area is remote and far from commercial shipping lanes.

Would pieces of the plane still be floating?

One of the world’s top air accident investigators, Remi Jouty, head of the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, the French air accident investigation branch, says the missing jet may never be found if it crashed in the Indian Ocean, according to The Financial Times.

This is supported by Steve Wallace, the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s former director of accident investigation, who CNN quoted as saying that if the plane crashed into the water, large pieces would not be floating by now.

Only lightweight debris, such as life jackets and seats, not aircraft structure, could be floating days after the aircraft struck the water, he said.

Did the plane go too far?

Some of the wilder theories about the plane include hijacking. But discovery of debris in an area so far from MH370’s flight path suggests that there was most likely an emergency on board and the crew attempted to turn back.

Complications might have arisen, causing the crew to fall into unconsciousness, leaving the plane on a ghost flight until it ran out of fuel.

Mitchell Casado, a flight instructor on a Boeing-777 flight simulator, said that running out of fuel would be a big concern.

“There’s such few options,” CNN quoted him as saying.

“As long-range as this aircraft is, it’s a long way to any suitable airport out there. There are some small islands, you know, that you could possibly land at, but that would really be pushing your the limits of the airplane. So I would really be worried about running out of gas.”

The 777, when fully fuelled, can go 16 to 18 hours. Flight 370 wasn’t.

Planes and ships are in the area. What have they found?

AMSA, the agency coordinating the search for the missing plane in the sea off Perth, said four aircraft flew into the search area yesterday but found nothing of note.

A Norwegian cargo ship also joined the search yesterday afternoon, but had not found anything as of nightfall.

Bad weather is hampering the hunt. A second merchant ship is en route to the area, as is the HMAS Success. China and Malaysia will also send vessels.

If it’s not MH370, what else could it be?

CNN said the objects could be almost anything big and buoyant.

The swirling currents in the Indian Ocean can trap all sorts of floating debris. If the objects are not part of flight 370, then they might be shipping containers that fell off a passing cargo vessel.

However, CNN said that the area is far from commercial shipping lanes, and the larger object, at about 24m, was nearly twice as long as standard shipping containers.

If it is MH370, could the Indian Ocean location suggest what happened on that flight?

Robert Goyer, editor-in-chief of Flying magazine and a commercial jet-rated pilot, was quoted by CNN as saying: “The location would suggest a few very important parameters. The spot where searchers have found hoped-for clues is… nearly 6,400km from where the airliner made its unexpected and as yet unexplained turn to the west”.

The most obvious clue? It flew for many hours.

What do the satellite images show?

Two indistinct objects – one about 24m in length and the other about 5m long.

AMSA’s Young said, “Those who are experts indicate they are credible sightings. And the indication to me is of objects that are reasonable size and are probably awash with water, bobbing up and down out of the surface.”

How old are the satellite images?

They were taken by commercial satellite imaging company DigitalGlobe on Sunday.

Why only release them now?

The Indian Ocean is remote and covers about 20% of the Earth’s surface. AMSA said it took four days for the images to reach it “due to the volume of imagery being searched and the detailed process of analysis that followed”.

How did they know to look in this area?

Searchers believe the waters 2,500km from Perth are the most likely spot where the plane will be found.

Mathematical probability had narrowed the likely area to a square – and that was where these images have emerged.

Who is leading the search?

The Australians are leading the search in their area of responsibility, which includes a large area of the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia remains in overall control of the search.

How long does the flight data recorder ping?

In an ocean this size, it would be difficult to pick up “pings” from the data recorders.

If the black box or transponder is at the bottom of the ocean, the warm waters may impede the pingers, affecting the ability of the pingers to be heard.

The black box’s batteries last about 30 days. MH370 has been missing for 14 days. – March 21, 2014.

  1. #1 by Noble House on Saturday, 22 March 2014 - 3:48 am

    Officials admitted today, apart from the three to four tonnes of mangosteens, the plane was also carrying lithium-ion batteries, which may be flammable. Why was this information not disclosed earlier?

    The Air Traffic Management discusses the implications of this cargo in its website here:

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