A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777

Have remains of MH 370 been found west of Australia?

Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

The disappearance of MH370 a little over three weeks ago, the investigation to find out what happened to it and the effort to recover the two black boxes have failed to locate any wreckage from the Boeing 777-200.

Boeing reported late last week that a reevaluation of the ping data led them to identify a new area to search in the south Indian Ocean that is northeast of the original search area and much closer to western Australia. Because the flight to and from the new search area takes less time, aircraft can now spend up to five hours searching the new area compared to only two hours in the original area.

China and Thailand also announced last week that their satellites detected the presence of many objects floating on the surface. Unfortunately, the ocean is rather like a vast garbage dump, so the presence of objects in the water is not surprising. Its presence complicates the search for MH370 because every object retrieved from the sea must be examined in a manner that reliably determines whether it came from MH370 or from some other source. In other words, the searchers need a forensic laboratory.

Moreover, they need it on-site. The mountain must come to Mohammad because the nearest laboratory is several days distant in Perth. I say “several days” because the number and varying size, weight and condition of the objects necessitates the use of a ship to transport them to Perth.

The Australians have decided to create the on-site lab on their ship, Success, where they have a helipad and a large crane. The Washington Post describes the situation,

Malaysia technically must secure the wreckage and make it available for the investigation. But Australia is handling that responsibility on Malaysia’s behalf. As a result, any ship that collects suspected plane wreckage must hand it over to Australian authorities, said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transportation Safety Board.

‘Any wreckage that is obtained, we will hold on behalf of the Malaysian investigation team and await their instructions,’ Dolan said. ‘We’re in continual discussions with the Malaysians about the progress of the search and we will continue to discuss with them the handling of wreckage as and when it comes to hand.’

Australian authorities have not divulged details about how identification of objects retrieved by ships is being conducted to determine whether they are from the plane or are sea trash.

But an Australian government official said ships in the search area have the capability of transmitting photos of recovered debris to experts on the Australian mainland who can make detailed examinations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

The Australian supply ship HMAS Success is searching but is also designated as the ship that will store potential plane wreckage at sea. It has a heavy crane. How transfers of potential plane debris will happen from one ship to another and transferred to the navy base near Perth will be decided on a case by case basis, Walker said.

‘They’re not going to sail into Perth every time they pick something up,’ he said. That voyage takes days.

MH370 is transforming our world in potentially beneficial ways.

The most obvious benefit is cooperation between nations on a peer-to-peer basis to organize, share resources and use technologies, previously reserved for military use against each other, to find the aircraft.

The second effect that we are beginning to see is a mega increase in awareness that we humans have transformed our oceans into garbage dumps. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is a description of our failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for the garbage we generate and the duty to dispose of it beneficially.

Visit any garbage dump or landfill anywhere in the world and you will discover that corporations are not the only polluters.

Before publishing this post, I checked for the latest update on the search for MH370 and discovered that Malaysian officials announced today that the copilot did not say, “All right. Good night.”

The sign-off to the command to switch to ATC Ho Chi Minh City for the next leg of the flight to Beijing was the final radio communication with the flight.

As readers may recall, Towerflower and I disagreed about the potential significance of that sign-off because it’s not pilot-speak. With my tinfoil hat firmly in place, I said I thought it may have been a coded signal that a hijacking may have been underway, but he could not say that because the hijacker may have been holding a knife to his throat. Towerflower disagreed. She said pilots will occasionally lapse into normal-speak during late night flights when fewer aircraft are aloft. She is an air traffic controller, which I am not.

Mr Ken Stewart, who started commenting here recently, is a captain who pilots triple-7s. He said he always signs off in pilot-speak, which requires an identification of the flight and a word-by-word repetition of the command. This procedure was designed to assure that the message was received.

The sign-off occurred at 1:19 am. Two minutes later, the transponder stopped broadcasting and the aircraft turned back toward the Malay Peninsula.

The Telegraph is reporting,

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Thomas, an Australia aviation expert and the editor of Airlineratings.com has criticised the Malaysian government’s admission that the final words spoken from on board the aircraft were different to those they originally reported. He said it was ‘extraordinary’ that it took so long for a correction to be issued.

‘This just gives the families of those, the families of the victims, more evidence that things have been hidden from them if you like,’ he added. ‘The sign off from the Malaysian pilots is still not correct because they should have said, “Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh centre on 1 2 0 decimal 9, goodnight.”‘

Thomas is correct. A transcript of the radio communications between ATC and Malaysian 370 establishes that

01:19:24 ATC: Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9. Good night.

01:19:29 MH370: Good night Malaysian 370.

Although I knew about the plastic garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean and the oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, I did not realize the extent of the problem until recently. Sea trash is severely hampering the search for MH370 and may ultimately make it impossible to find floating wreckage from the flight until a fishing boat snags it by accident or it starts turning up on a beach somewhere. Depending on how long it takes to find wreckage from MH370, retracing its path to find out where MH370 entered the water may not be possible.

Our oceans have become a vast garbage dump and we absolutely must change that.

You are now up to date.

Photo by Aero Icarus released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.