The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 continues to baffle both investigators and the rest of the world as rescue officials are “bewildered” by the Boeing 777-200 that went missing without a trace on 8th March. With no problems reported by the pilots during the last radio communication and no signs of any wreckage in the area where the plane went missing, it’s hard to say what happened and where the 239 passengers and crew members could be.
At first loved ones and the general public were left speechless and could only wonder what had happened to the missing aircraft, but now the main question on everyone’s mind is, “How long could it take to find such a large passenger aircraft?” The disappearance of flight MH 370 is not the first case of a vanishing aircraft. Air France flight 447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Search and rescue teams found the wreckage five days later and the plane’s black box was found after another two years. But this large timescale was due mainly to the greater depths of the ocean in which AF447 crashed which had an average depth of 3,900 meters as compared to average depth of 45 meters in the Gulf of Thailand where MH370 was last located. The diagram below shows the comparison.
The next diagram shows how surprising it is that no debris of the plane have been found yet, though it is possible that the winter water currents may have carried it away much farther than expected. The top diagram shows the size of the aircraft compared to the waters over which it disappeared, making it difficult to believe that no remains of the aircraft have been found as of yet. The third diagram shows a detailed map of the search areas and expected flight path of the aircraft. The current search area has been greatly expanded to cover a larger area than that shown in the map.
To cater to this possibility, investigators have expanded their search area to the western side of the Malaysian peninsula. Malaysian radar has also claimed that the plane may have tried to turn around towards the western side, but it seems highly unlikely since the plane would have to cross the country unnoticed.
As the public and loved ones of the passenger and crew pray for a miracle, teams from eight countries are frantically searching the ocean for the missing aircraft that has left the world in puzzlement. Currently there are more than 42 vessels and 39 aircraft that have been searching the shallow waters for almost a week now. The last tracking of the plane came from Malaysian Army radar, which detected the plane hundreds of miles west from its flight path and flying at a low altitude. This is alarming as it increases the chances of a crash. If this is true, finding a plane underwater is far more complicated than finding scattered debris from a plan that disintegrated mid-air.
Chinese radar shows the supposed wreckage of MH370
The task usually requires technical experts using sonar and hydrography (plotting depths) to retrace the aircraft’s last movements. Experts searching for the plane have compared it to finding “bits of a needle” in a haystack. With a search area that spans over 160,000 square miles, it is very difficult to find a 210 foot long aircraft when you have no idea where it could have ended up. The current goal is to find any floating debris which will greatly help in finding the aircraft. The process is known as “hindcasting” and requires mapping where the debris was a certain ago from its current location with respect to the time of the crash. Singapore has sent a sonar-equipped submersible to aid in the search.
Debris was found in the Gulf of Thailand, but it turned out to be from a different aircraft. An oil slick was located 120 miles off the Vietnamese coast, but it was found to be ship fuel. And elongated shape thought to be the plane’s tail was actually a bunch of tied up logs and a floating yellow object, thought to be a life raft, was found to be moss-covered cap from a cable reel. With so many misleading clues scattered over the expansive area, it’s no wonder that search and rescue times are having such a hard time. Although the waters in the search area are shallower, they also have stronger currents which means that the wreckage can be carried off a great deal farther than where it is originally expected. Visibility is also poorer compared to deeper oceans due to the run offs from rivers and land, which makes it harder to spot what they are searching for.
But the greatest obstacle that hinders the search is the lack of any information as to what happened to the Boeing 777 which was reported to be working fine in every possible way with no reported failures or complaints from the pilots. If the plane met a disastrous accident at a high altitude, the debris field would be a lot larger and make it even more difficult to locate any wreckage.
But despite all these challenges and uncertainties, search and rescue team from across the world are working day and night to locate any remnants of the airplane that has left the entire world mystified. We can only hope and pray that they find something to help ease the gnawing anxiety of the awaiting loved ones.