Malaysia

Rare but sometimes, plane crash sites are not found, says aviation expert

The Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Terengganu and a US Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney conduct a coordinated air and sea search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jet in the Gulf of Thailand March 12, 2014. – Reuters pic, March 14, 2014.The Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Terengganu and a US Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney conduct a coordinated air and sea search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jet in the Gulf of Thailand March 12, 2014. – Reuters pic, March 14, 2014.If efforts to find the missing flight MH370 fail as the search enters its first week, it might be that the crash site simply cannot be found, says a former aviation safety and security writer.

Citing a 1972 crash involving a Pan Alaska Airways flight, Sylvia Adcock, writing in CNN’s website, said a Cessna took off from Anchorage bound for Juneau in bad weather. The plane never arrived.

The search for the missing aircraft was intense and covered an area of 325,000 square miles, with up to 3,600 flight hours involved in the search for the wreckage. It was never found and the search was called off 39 days later.

On the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER which went missing on Saturday with 239 onboard, Adcock noted that Chinese satellites had captured images of what appeared to be a crash site.

But Vietnamese and Malaysian planes that searched the area in the South China Sea yesterday found no sign of wreckage of the Boeing 777.

“Such images are rare, and typically, when a plane goes down in a remote area with no witnesses, one of the most crucial tools available to investigators is radar,” Adcock said, adding that there were basically two ways to find a missing plane – radar and pilot communication.

Radar might pick up debris raining down from an in-flight explosion or it could rely on a plane's transponder to rely information on a plane’s flight and its altitude, she said.

Flight MH370’s transponder stopped relaying data about 45 minutes after it left the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41am.

“At first, the search area focused on the plane's intended flight path, as officials went on the assumption that the plane did not change course,” Adcock said.

It was earlier reported that American investigators suspected the plane flew for four hours after its last known contact with air traffic control at 1.30am, but Malaysia has since rejected this report.

Adcock said military radar could have tracked “unidentified targets that could have been Flight 370 heading west towards the Strait of Malacca and possibly beyond” but without the jet’s transponder, the military could not identify the plane or give an altitude.

“It's possible for a plane to literally fly under the radar” because coverage might not extend all the way to the surface. If that was the case, the plane simply remains undetected.

The Boeing 777 is large and for it to “disappear”, Adcock said, the search area which expanded this morning to include the Indian Ocean, “does not bode well for the likelihood of finding the plane”.

Today, Reuters reports that ships and aircraft are combing a vast area that had already been widened to cover both sides of the peninsula and the Andaman Sea.

The United States Navy has sent an advanced P-8A Poseidon plane to help search the Strait of Malacca and it had deployed a navy P-3 Orion aircraft to those waters.

US defence officials added that its guided-missile destroyer, USS Kidd, was heading to the Strait of Malacca, answering a request from Putrajaya. The Kidd had been searching the areas south of the Gulf of Thailand, along with the destroyer USS Pinckney.

“It's almost impossible to simply crisscross such a large area in low-flying planes and boats,” said John Griffin, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who specialises in air traffic control. He was commenting in Adcock’s CNN article.

"It's a monumental task," Griffin said. "It's a vast area. There's a lot of terrain there, remote areas where the plane could have crashed."

All international flights are required to have an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) but it is unclear if flight MH370 had the device onboard.

If it did have an ELT, it hasn't been detected, which indicates that the plane had crashed in such a remote location that its signal was out of range or that the device malfunctioned or that it landed somewhere, said Adcock.

"But then you get into how do you hide a 777," Griffin said. "This is a serious aircraft." – March 14, 2014.

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