A map of the search area, via the Australia Safety Transportation Bureau.
A map of the search area, via the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

It’s been a year since flight MH370 went missing. As Malaysians unite in remembrance, search teams continue working to find out what happened to the plane – in the hopes of bringing closure to the loved ones of the 239 people on board. Until any trace of wreckage is found, many families of the MH370 crew and passengers cannot accept that the plane crashed.

Who is searching for MH370?

The search effort has been lead by Australia since the end of March 2014. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is in charge of the underwater search mission. For this phase of the search, the Dutch company Fugro has been contracted since August 2014 to scan 60,000 km of the Indian Ocean for debris and wreckage.

What equipment is being used in the search?

There are four vessels now searching for the plane: the Fugro Equator, the Fugro Discovery, the Go Phoneix and the Fugro Supporter. The Supporter is the latest to join the search and carries the HUGIN 4500, a programmable unmanned submarine that scans areas too dangerous for humans.

Is the plane definitely in the search area?

Analysis of satellite, radar and aircraft data seemed to indicate that the plane flew up the Straits of Malacca but turned south after flying out of the radar range and over the Indian Ocean for a few hours before losing fuel. However, a recent theory from a British aviation expert has suggested another possibility: that the plane circled over Penang and then deliberately landed in water about 100 nautical miles from the current search area. This theory has been described as “credible” by the ATSB, but has not yet changed the search direction.

How likely is the plane to be found now?

Martin Dolan, Chief Commissioner of ATSB, said that he is “slightly more optimistic than six months ago, because we have more confidence in the data, and we have proven the search equipment and techniques work to the necessary standards.” However, the search operation has faced setbacks from weather. Since February, cyclones have delayed the search.

How much of the ocean has been searched?

This is the largest underwater search in history. More than 24,000 square kilometers of the search area has been scanned – this is roughly 40% of the “priority search area” of 60,000 km. The aim is for the search of this area to be completed by May, because weather conditions are expected to worsen then.

What is the 7th Arc?

The 7th arc, also known as the 7th handshake, is the curve that represents the area that MH370 is thought to have lost fuel and this is where the search operation is taking place. According to ATSB, “the aircraft is unlikely to be more than 20 NM (38 km) to the west or 30 NM (55 km) to the east of the arc.”

What is the cost of the underwater search operation?

The Australian government has pledged $90 million to the search, $60 million of which is allocated for the under water search. The Malaysian government has pledged to match this. China has lent vessels to the search but has not yet pledged money.

What will happen if the plane isn’t found?

It not currently known what action will be taken if the plane is not found by May, when the underwater search operation is due to finish. The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia has said that, “discussions will be had between Australia, Malaysia, China and potentially others on the next steps.”

UPDATE

On the first anniversary of MH370’s disappearance, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the search would be extended if necessary: “We’ve got 60,000 square kilometres (23,000-square-mile) that is the subject of this search. If that’s unsuccessful, there’s another 60,000 square kilometres that we intend to search and, as I said, we are reasonably confident of finding the plane.” (08/03/2015).

 

Words by Ling Low. Research by Gabriel Chua.


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