MH370 search to stop just short of Hardy’s predicted position

Two years ago Boeing 777 captain Simon Hardy calculated the most likely position of MH370’s undersea remains using only established facts and mathematics.

The Australian-led international search for the lost Malaysia Airlines 777, however, may be suspended in December just short of that position unless existing plans are amended.

Hardy’s proposed position, and the methodology that determined it, has been widely published, both in Flight International magazine in January 2015 and a month earlier on the web via FlightGlobal.com.

Most theories posted to the web – especially related to serious subjects like this – usually attract massive peer criticism and public comment, but Hardy’s has faced no criticism, just requests for clarification.

It has, however, attracted great interest, and he has met the Australian Transport Safety Board at their request more than once to talk about it.

He has now posted a spoken explanation of his methodology to YouTube, so if you want to test your mathematics and geometry, go there.

Hardy’s calculations put the resting position of MH370 just outside the planned area for the multinational search effort, close to its southern end. So the methodology that the official search team used produced results that are pretty close to the predictions Hardy reached independently.

Here is the ATSB’s explanation, posted on 21 September, as to why they will not look in Hardy’s predicted position even if the remainder of the planned search fails to find the aircraft:

“At a meeting of Ministers from Malaysia, Australia and the People’s Republic of China held on 22 July 2016, it was agreed that should the aircraft not be located in the current search area, and in the absence of credible new evidence leading to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, the search would be suspended upon completion of the 120,000 square kilometre search area.”

The ATSB makes the intention clear: “It is expected that searching the entire 120,000 square kilometre search area will be completed by around December 2016.”

Hardy’s calculations put the MH370 wreck just outside that area, and they cannot be defined as “new evidence” because the ATSB knows about them already and has decided, without explaining why, not to search there.

By December the arrival of the southern hemisphere summer will have made the search much easier.

Hopefully the search team will find the aircraft remains within their planned search area. But what if they don’t?

If the ATSB won’t go there, Hardy is considering crowdfunding to extend the search for a few weeks into the area indicated by his work.

 

 

MH370 search extended into August

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, coordinating the multinational search for flight MH370, the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, had planned to complete the mission this month.

But winter weather has slowed down the sea-bed search for the main aircraft wreckage.

The ATSB says: “It is now anticipated it may take until around August to complete the 120,000 square kilometres, but this will be influenced by weather conditions over the coming months, which may worsen. More than 105,000 square kilometres of the seafloor have been searched so far. In the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.”

The ATSB statement continues: “Consistent with the undertaking given by the Governments of Australia, Malaysia and the PRC in April last year, 120,000 square kilometres will be thoroughly searched. In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Governments have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area.”

The investigators have now examined half a dozen pieces of floating wreckage that washed up on beaches, mostly on the shores of islands in the western Indian Ocean or off south-eastern Africa. The have all been determined either to be definitely or almost certainly from the missing Malaysia 777. They include a flaperon, a wing flap section a flap track fairing, a part from a horizontal stabiliser, a piece of engine cowling, and a section of laminate material from the cabin trim of the aircraft.

So the aircraft is in the Indian Ocean, but if it is not found in the area where the sparse data the authorities have at their disposal suggest it should be, they have decided that the search will stop there.

MH370 search: winter may make it un-viable

The Australian Transport Safety Board reports that the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is increasingly likely to be compromised by bad weather as the southern hemisphere winter advances.

The latest ATSB report says: “Poor weather conditions prompted the crew of Fugro Discovery to recover the deep-tow vehicle and go to weather avoidance on 8 May. The vessel is expected to depart for Fremantle later today.

Fugro Equator departed Fremantle for the search area on 6 May but poor weather has slowed transit to the search area. The vessel is anticipated to arrive on 11 May but weather conditions in the coming days are expected to preclude search operations.

Dong Hai Jiu 101 completed testing of the SLH‑ProSAS‑60 deep tow system and departed for the search area on 10 May.”

The sea conditions report speaks of 12m high waves and 50kt winds, but the Board says searches will resume whenever the weather permits.

This does not sound promising because the search is nearing its end, as the ATSB explains: “It is anticipated this will be completed around the middle of the year. In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Governments have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area.”

But if they do find the wreckage within the remaining search area, Malaysia, China and Australia are committed to recovering it all.

MH370: the search nears its end

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.

lost-towfish-on-ocean-floor

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.

Fugro search latest

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.

Risks to airline passengers are changing

In calendar year 2015 worldwide airline accidents killed fewer passengers than they have ever done, but crashes caused by deliberate action confirms a rising risk to travellers that has its basis in global instability.

Last year there were nine fatal airline accidents in which a total of 176 people died. All of these fatal accidents involved small, propeller-driven aircraft , most of them carrying cargo only. There were no jet accidents.

There were also two jet disasters in 2015, but they were not accidents. One was the Germanwings crash in the French Alps, deliberately caused by the copilot in a bid for his own suicide and – perhaps – notoriety. He killed himself and the other 149 people on board. The second jet disaster was the sabotage of the Russian-bound MetroJet Airbus A321, in which all 224 people on board died. Evidence points to a bomb having been placed on board the aircraft at its departure airport, Sharm el-Sheikh.

So in 2015 more than twice as many passengers and crew – 374 – were killed on airliners by deliberate action compared with the number killed in genuine accidents.

In 2014 there were two such events resulting in 510 deaths. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370’s disappearance is believed (though not yet proven) to have been the result of deliberate action by someone on board, and then there was the missile shoot-down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The indications are that the most significant future risk to airline passengers is now shifting away from accidents and toward security threats.

When they find MH370, what then?

The determination to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is palpable, shared by the three main parties to the search: Australia (leading the search process), Malaysia (obviously) and China (more Chinese citizens were lost on the flight, whose destination was Beijing, than any other nationality).

These nations, aided by expertise from many others, work together through the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, an organisation set up by the Australian government at the end of March 2014, the month in which the aircraft went missing.

The specialist search vessel Fugro Discovery returned to the search area on 3 December after an interruption caused by a crew medical emergency. The operation so far has searched 75,000 square kilometres of the southern Indian Ocean floor, but the JACC says there are 45,000 more yet to search in the areas calculated to be the aircraft’s most likely resting place.

Fortunately, as summer advances in the southern hemisphere, search operations become easier and suffer fewer interruptions.

So when they find it, what next? This is what the JACC says: “In the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.”

For relatives of those lost with the aeroplane, that also means hope of recovering some remains. The Chinese affected have been so horrified and angered by the MH370 story that it has soured relations between China and Malaysia.

If the aeroplane was ditched intact, this hope could be borne out, but no-one can pretend they know it was. The indicator the people cling to is that only one small piece of wreckage from the aircraft has been found, so they hope this indicates that the aircraft sank more or less intact.

For those interested in finding out more about how the search areas have been defined, the Australian Transport Safety Board has just released a report.

For some background, look to the blog entry I posted in November which explains why I am optimistic about this phase of the search.

 

Latest phase of MH370 search gets interesting

On 3 November the Australian Transport Safety Bureau resumed the deep sea search for the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 [but see update at end of story].

Refuelled, replenished and ready to go, the ATSB’s survey ship Fugro Discovery has arrived on station once more in the southern Indian Ocean (see footnote for an update).

For those seeking a reason to be optimistic following a discouraging 20 months of searching the ocean without a result, there is definite cause for renewed hope this time.

Since it began the search the ATSB has been scrupulously methodical, scanning the ocean floor within a long, slender curved rectangle that encompassed what became known as the “7th arc”. This is a long line on the earth’s surface established by vestigial radio responses from the fatal aircraft to Inmarsat satellites just as it was running out of fuel.

Theoretically the Boeing 777 could have come down anywhere close to it, but working with the aircraft’s last radar position the ATSB identified the arc sector where the aircraft could realistically have come down, and has searched almost all of the identified curve and its close vicinity.

Since it has now trawled almost all the 7th arc’s viable sector and not found the wreckage of MH370, there is not much more to search. Logic says they must be getting close.

But not only logic.

For those who doubted MH370 came down in the sea at all, the fact it did so was established in July when one of its flaperons was washed up on a beach on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion. This fact was forensically confirmed more recently by the French air accident investigation agency BEA.

But there’s another reason for optimism: on 22 December last year Flightglobal published a mathematical/geometric calculation by Boeing 777 captain Simon Hardy, also a mathematician, which indicates precisely where, according to his calculations, MH370 came down.

The search sector that Fugro Discovery has just begun to trawl encompasses Hardy’s predicted position for MH370. His recent refinements to the aircraft’s final descent profile put it at S39 22′ 46″ E087 06′ 20″. He adds, however, that depending on how long the aircraft floated, the main wreck could have drifted some time before sinking, and even during the descent could have travelled laterally. At this location he would expect to see mainly “some moveable aerodynamic surfaces, like the missing part of the flaperon that we already have, and parts of slats and flaps and maybe even the RAT [ram air turbine].”

This could be said to be the last chance for the search under present estimated criteria, because 777 performance dictates that the aircraft could not have flown further than this extreme southern end of the 7th-arc-defined potential ditching area.

Anyone who has published material on the web knows that it may receive praise, but it will certainly receive criticism. The impressive fact about Hardy’s mathematics is that, despite hundreds of thousands of hits on the article containing his calculations, nobody has been able to blow a hole in them.

By 3 December Fugro Discovery expects to have completed the search of the area containing, according to Hardy’s calculations, the wreck of MH370 and the remains of those who went down with it.

Hardy says he says he is excited about the next month’s search, having invested more than a year of mental and emotional energy into working out where MH370 flew, and why. He wants it found.

He’s not alone.

Watch this space for more on MH370.

LATE NEWS: On 5 November Fugro Discovery had to suspend the search and return to Fremantle, Western Australia, according to Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, because one of the crew developed suspected appendicitis.

UPDATE: Fugro Discovery was due to arrive back in the search area on 3 December.