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Plane found? Air Force checks debris as $10 fix touted

March 21, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59An RAAF reconnaissance plane was expected back in Western Australia this morning after flying over a stretch of the southern Indian Ocean to search for debris suspected of being from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Earlier, it was confirmed satellites had picked up images of two large objects in the area, the bigger of which is 24 metres long. The objects were bobbing in the sea some 4000 kilometres southwest of Perth, in a latitude so far south that it is more southerly than the southernmost part of Tasmania.

The plane, if it flew that way, could even be closer to Antarctica than Australia, according to ABC News reporter David Wright. Wright, who travelled on the first RAAF flight over the search area yesterday, tweeted: “The sailors conducting this high tech search scouring 4100 sq miles of open ocean closer to Antarctica than to Australia due south of KL…”.

Although the plane with Wright aboard failed to sight and photograph the debris, the find was said to be the most promising yet in the search for the airliner, which disappeared mysteriously almost two weeks ago with 239 people aboard.

Planes from the air forces of Australia, New Zealand and the US are investigating the floating material and ships are being sent to the area. A Norwegian merchant ship carrying freight from Madagascar to Melbourne was diverted and arrived in the search zone last night.

A US Airforce P-8 Poseidon, one of the most advanced submarine hunting planes in the world with radar capable of picking up objects over a wide radius, scoured the area yesterday evening, in rain and low cloud, without success.

John Young from the Australia Maritime Safety Authority said yesterday that higher quality pictures of the debris were expected soon.

He added, however: “I must emphasise these objects may be very difficult to locate, and may not be related (to the missing flight).”

There is much debris floating in the ocean. Even if the floating objects do turn out to be from the missing plane, the sea in that region is about 3 kilometres deep, the area is extremely remote and the plane, if it went down there, may never be recovered. The underwater locator beacon on the plane’s “black box” flight recorder has just 16 days battery life left.

Meanwhile, amid various conflicting reports emerging from Malaysia, the daunting news arrived that Malaysia Airlines didn’t invest in a simple computer upgrade that would have provided critical information to help find its missing airliner.

A report in the Washington Post said the upgrade, which costs about USD 10 per flight, wholesale, “would have provided investigators with the direction, speed and altitude of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 even after other communications from the plane went dark”. That was according to a satellite industry official familiar with the equipment who spoke to the newspaper.

The paper reported that a similar computer upgrade supplied data to investigators into an Air France crash in 2009 that quickly narrowed the search to an area of about 100 square kilometres in the Atlantic Ocean. Those investigators found floating evidence of the crash within five days – the sort of evidence planes are now searching for in the Indian Ocean following the MH370 disappearance. It has not been possible to narrow the MH370 search area so precisely.

Had the upgrade for a system called Swift been installed in the MAS plane, “it would have continued to send flight data by satellite even after signals from the plane’s transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) went dead”, the paper reported.

Investigators believe the transponder and ACARS were shut down, either by a rogue pilot or hijackers in the cockpit, before the plane flew on south for seven more hours for reasons probably destined to remain forever a mystery.

Written by Peter Needham

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