If the multinational team searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH370 does not find the wreck by mid-2016, the search will stop and the loss of the flight will remain a mystery.
Termination at that point, when the designated remaining search area has been covered, has been agreed by the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian partners in the search effort.
The search has suffered numerous snags recently, but the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and its Chinese and Malaysian partners have emphasised their commitment to search another 35,000 square kilometres of the ocean floor before they abandon the attempt. The team, says the ATSB, is also committed to MH370’s recovery, if found.
Ironically, one of the snags that has delayed the latest stage of the search process has proven once again that the technology the team is using will definitely identify the MH370 wreck if they look in the right place. When one of the deep-tow sonar vehicles recently hit a sea-bed mountain and was severed from its mother-ship Fugro Discovery, deployment of a remotely operated vehicle quickly found it, relayed a clear picture of it to the crew, and established the connections that enabled its recovery.
The area already searched amounts to 85,000 sq km, the entire search pattern based on the “7th arc”, the linear location indicated by the last satellite signal received from the missing aircraft.
The extended 35,000 sq km search continues to use the 7th arc as the prime indicator of where the aircraft could be, but further to the south-west around the arc.
If the Joint Agency Coordination Centre search assumptions, which tally with several independent calculations of where MH370 could be, are indeed correct, the wreck will be found within approximately the next six months.
If not, MH370 will become one of the great travel mysteries of all time.