New MH370 analysis again says we looked in the wrong places

Drift tests on actual 777 part show plane probably hit ocean north of search area


Australian scientists have released a new analysis of debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and again asserted that the search for the Boeing 777 was conducted in the wrong place.

Scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) penned the new report, The search for MH370 and ocean surface drift – Part II (PDF) which explores how a part of MH370's wing called a “flaperon” came to wash up on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The search zone picked by analysis of seven brief handshakes from MH370's satellite transponders does not have currents and winds that suggest the flaperon could have washed up in Reunion.

Later analysis of the satellite handshakes and drift patterns led to a new theory that the plane came down hard and fast, rather than glided into the ocean, and that the search zone should therefore be moved north. That theory was ratified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which has carriage of the search under Australia's maritime search obligations. The ATSB therefore recommended searching an extra 25,000km2 of ocean. But that recommendation was ignored and the search “suspended” in January 2017.

The new report is based on tests using an actual 777 flaperon that the ATSB obtained, trimmed to match the damage found on the unit found in Reunion, and then used in a number of flotation tests. Those tests showed “fairly strong evidence” that the modified flaperon “drifts at a non-zero angle to the wind (between 0 and 30° left), in broad agreement with numerical predictions (18° or 28° depending on orientation) … and in contrast with earlier testing of replica flaperons.”

Combining the observed drift patterns and previous models lead the authors to suggest their work is “very consistent with the July 2015 arrival time of the flaperon at La Reunion.”

The authors therefore back their previous estimates that the search for MH370 should have been conducted to the north of the designated search area, especially near 35°S.

Families of those who disappeared along with MH370 remain keen to learn of their loved ones' fate. Boeing, too, wants to know what caused the plane to vanish in case the 777 has a problem. Yet the search was called off in part because funding had run out.

Remember, however, that the search was “suspended”, not cancelled outright. Indeed, the joint Australian/Malaysian/Chinese Communiqué announcing the suspension ended by saying “We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.”

Whether this new report is new enough to spark a renewed search remains to be seen. Don't hold your breath, because this new report doesn't offer a completely new theory. The authors also hedge a little, saying “In summary, our conclusions with respect to the location of the aircraft are unchanged. The only thing that our recent work changes is our confidence in the accuracy of the estimated location”. ®

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