Missing Jet Ocean Floor Search Moves South

By David Fickling | October 8, 2014

A deep-sea search for the missing Flight 370 will move as much as about 800 kilometers (500 miles) further south after new analysis of satellite data showed the plane may have turned earlier than previously thought.

The Malaysia Airlines plane, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board, may have altered its course as early as 6:28 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, as much as 12 minutes earlier than previous analysis suggested, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau wrote in an update published today. The aircraft probably spiraled anti-clockwise into the sea after its right and then its left engines ran out of fuel, according to the investigators’ simulation.

“Recent refinement to the analysis has given greater certainty about when the aircraft turned,” the Bureau wrote in a website statement today. “The underwater search should be prioritized further south.”

The Fugro Discovery search vessel will scan the ocean floor as far south as about the 39th parallel after it departs for the search area Oct. 11, according to an updated map published today on the Bureau’s website. That’s about the same latitude as Melbourne, and about 800 kilometers south of the 32nd parallel which marked the approximate southern limit of the previous priority search zone.

A second vessel, the GO Phoenix, started a 12-day deep-sea search Oct. 6 in a region between about 33 degrees South and 35 degrees South, according to the Bureau. The search ships are using sonar vehicles to look for signs of wreckage on the floor of the Indian Ocean.

Longest Search

The seven-month long search remains the best hope to find the Boeing Co. 777-200 and the black box flight recorder which could give some clue to why the plane disappeared en route to Beijing. The hunt for the aircraft is the longest in modern aviation history.

The best evidence to the plane’s location so far comes from eight failed connections with an Inmarsat Plc orbiter over the Indian Ocean, showing the plane likely traveled south before ditching somewhere along an arc to the west of the Australian city of Perth.

Survey vessels using ship-based sonar have scanned about 110,000 square kilometers of ocean along this arc, producing maps to help guide the ocean-floor search.

The new search zones were prefigured by Australian transport minister Warren Truss in an Aug. 28 press conference.

Further South

“Some of the information we now have suggests to us that areas a little further to the south” may be of interest, he said, according to a transcript of the event. “Small alterations to the calculations can have a significant difference.”

Radar and satellite data suggested the aircraft had been flying northwest along the Malacca Strait until after the first attempted satellite communication about 6:25 p.m.

The investigators had previously only been able to say that the plane had turned south before about 7:12 p.m., according to the Bureau’s last report.

The new analysis suggest it had shifted course by time that air traffic controllers tried to telephone the plane about 6:40 p.m., and seemed to have kept on that course until it ditched in the ocean around the time of a last attempted satellite log-on at 0:19 a.m. the next day.

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