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Search for MH370 enters new phase

May 8, 2014, Perth, Aus. - It’s been two months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished from the sky, and as the search for the missing plane enters a new phase, experts say discovery of the aircraft could still be months or years away.


May 8, 2014
By CBC News

“The fact they haven’t found anything after two months in this
circumstance isn’t surprising," Brad deYoung, professor of oceanography
at Memorial University in St. John's, told CBC News on Wednesday. "And
if anybody was offering that 'Yes we would find it quickly,' then
they’ve never done this before."

 

“A lot of the talking heads on this — I saw a few people and I would
just laugh when they would say things," deYoung said. "Their enthusiasm
and their expectation for success were completely unrealistic
initially.”

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deYoung said the plane, which disappeared on March 8 during a flight
from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is certainly "findable" but the search
poses many challenges.


The deep and vast search area may seem like the biggest
obstacle in locating the plane. But wreckage from the Air France Flight
447 crash in 2009, which was eventually located, also covered a large
search area. The difference is that officials had a pretty exact idea
where Flight 447 when down.

"I think the biggest challenge is they really don’t have a good fix
on where [MH370] ended," Mary Schiavo, aviation analyst and former
inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told CBC
News. "No one went looking for the plane on a timely basis so they had any hope of finding where it went down."


"They certainly won't find it in the next couple weeks or couple months," Schiavo said. "There’s lots of other places to look before I’d say it’s not possible to find it. I’m still hopeful that they will find it."


The intensive hunt for the plane has incorporated a search of
nearly 4.64 million square kilometres of ocean and utilized more than 33
search flights, translating to over 3,000 hours spent in the air.

 

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss, speaking to reporters
earlier this week, gave a rather blunt assessment of their search
efforts thus far.

 

“Unfortunately, all of that effort has found nothing,” he said.

 

“Any commentary about when we're likely to find this aircraft has to
be just that — commentary,” he added. “We obviously have no idea when
it's likely to be found, we just always hope it's tomorrow. But so far
our very, very best leads, days when we were quite confident that this
was going to be the day, have all proved fruitless, and so I think it
would be unduly optimistic to name a day or a time.”

Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, the search will transition “to an
intensified undersea search” of a 60,000-square-kilometre patch of
seafloor in the Indian Ocean off western Australia and where sounds
consistent with a plane's black box were detected in early April.


The area became the focus of the hunt after a team of analysts
calculated the plane's likeliest flight path based on satellite and
radar data.

 

Officials will continue to use the unmanned sub Bluefin-21, an autonomous vehicle being lent out by the U.S. Navy.

 

But deYoung said the Bluefin-21 has its limitations. It has to be
lowered down and brought back up every day, have its batteries
recharged, and all its data downloaded and examined.

 

“They’re good, they work well, they don’t move that quickly and they don’t cover huge areas," he added.

Officials are hoping to use more specialized equipment that can dive
deeper than the Bluefin vessel, and that will be able to send
information back to crews in real time. 

 

"If they’re in the right area, then slow and steady wins the game maybe and maybe Bluefin on its own is fine," deYoung said.

 

Part of the problem is the search crew is in unchartered waters and
no one really knows exactly how deep the water in the search area is.

“If you knew the initial region you could easily program your vehicle
and your survey, because you know what you’re going to find, more or
less. And then you're just looking for an airplane," deYoung said.
"Right now they’re probably doing the first really detailed sea bed maps
that have ever been done there."


But all this is costly and has raised questions as to who will foot the bill.

 

"What I’m worried about is the [Malaysian] government not going to
pour any more money to Malaysia Airlines," Schiavo said. "So if they
stop funding the airlines, how committed are they going to be
financially to this investigation?"

 

Cost estimates for the first phase of the search have hovered
around $50 million, with the second phase pinned at another $60 million.
But most experts predict the costs could end up being in the hundreds
of millions of dollars

 

“I think they’re at a crossroads in terms of where to get equipment to do it and where to get money," Schiavo said.


Truss suggested there will be future discussions
about cost sharing with Malaysia, China and other parties, including
companies like Boeing and Rolls Royce, who may have vested interests in
what happened.


He said they will also seek out international partners to
acquire more equipment, and that the majority will have to be provided
by the private sector.


"Clearly they now realize that this is going to be an 'in for the long haul' kind of a search," deYoung said.


"If they open up their search radius significantly in the next
phase then that might be a sign that they're not completely confident
the pings were from the plane. And if that’s true, now the time scale
for the searching goes up from a few years to many years and many
ships."