Wings Magazine

Unusual underwater sounds may hold links to MH370

June 4, 2014, Bentley, Aus. - A team of Australian researchers looking into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 released data on Wednesday about an unusual underwater sound recorded around the time the plane vanished, though the lead scientist acknowledged the chances it is linked to the jet are slim.

June 4, 2014  By The Associated Press

The low-frequency sound was picked up by underwater listening devices
in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia on March 8, the
same day the Boeing 777 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to
Beijing with 239 people on board.


Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have been
analyzing the signal to see if it may be the sound of the plane crashing
into the ocean.



But Alec Duncan, who's heading up the research, said the sound
appears to have originated well outside the jet's projected flight path
that officials determined based on satellite and radar data, and is
therefore unlikely to have come from the plane.


"It's one of these situations where you find yourself willing it all
to fit together but it really doesn't," said Duncan, senior research
fellow with Curtin's Center for Marine Science and Technology.


"I'd love to be able to sit here and say, 'Yeah, we've found this
thing and it's from the plane' — but the reality is, there's a lot of
things that make noise in the ocean."

The noise could have come from a natural event, such as a small
earthquake, Duncan said. He put the chances of it being linked to Flight
370 at less than 20 per cent.


Soon after the search for the plane moved to the southern Indian
Ocean, scientists from Curtin decided to check the data from their
underwater acoustic recorders off Rottnest Island, near Perth, to see if
they'd picked up anything of interest.  


The scientists normally use the recorders for environmental research, such as studying whale sounds. This time, however, the data showed a signal that they initially thought might be
the aircraft crashing into the ocean — an event that would have produced
a low-frequency sound that can travel thousands of kilometres under the
right conditions, Duncan said.


The team then checked data from underwater recorders off the
southwest tip of Australia that are run by the UN's' Comprehensive
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. One of the recorders had
picked up a sound consistent with the original signal. That allowed the
team to determine which direction the sound came from — though not its
precise location.


The scientists then refined the data further and realized the sound
originated somewhere south of India — an area well outside the arc of
ocean where officials have determined the plane probably crashed.


"It's now looking as if it's unlikely to be due to the aircraft
because it seems to be too far out into the ocean," Duncan said, though
his team was triple-checking their calculations just to be sure.


The Joint Agency Coordination Center, which is heading up the search
effort, said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has looked at the
research and is discussing it with the Curtin team.


"However, Curtin University has concluded, and the ATSB agrees, that
the current results are not compatible with the international search
team's analysis of the most likely area where MH370 entered the water,"
the agency said in an email.


Despite a massive air and sea search, no trace of Flight 370 has been
found, three months after it vanished. The search is on hold for two
months while new, specialized equipment can be brought in to scour a 700
kilometre by 80 kilometre swath of ocean where officials believe the
plane crashed.


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