MH370: Malaysia tipped to announce search deal

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October 16, 2017
MH370 Boeing 777 search Malaysia
The Boeing 777 that is missing

Malaysia could announce as early as this week that it is resuming the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The Malaysian government has been looking closely at search offers from private companies and an announcement is expected soon, according to sources linked to Kuala Lumpur.

A “no-find, no-fee” offer by US company Ocean Infinity is understood to be the winning candidate although Dutch company Fugro, which was involved in the original sweep, is believed to have countered with a low-fee proposal.

Ocean Infinity champions a system that uses six HUGIN autonomous underwater vehicles capable of operating at depths of up to 6000m to collect high-resolution data at what it says are “record-breaking speeds’’.

ocean Infinity MH370 malaysia
The Ocean Infinity underwater search system

Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation was asked recently by Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai to comb through the recently released Australian Transport Safety Bureau final report on the search for “credible evidence” on the crash site.

A two-year sweep of the original 120,000 sq, km. search area failed to find any signs of the wreckage and was ended by the Malaysian, Australian and Chinese governments in January amid criticism by experts it was abandoned too soon.

Since the decision to suspend the search, new findings from drift modeling and satellite imagery have led Australian scientists to believe they have pinpointed the probable site for the wreckage of the plane with unprecedented accuracy.

The studies have significantly boosted confidence that the wreckage of the Boeing 777, which went missing in March 2014 with 239 souls on board, is in the southern half of a 25,000 sq. km. search area identified by experts in 2016.

The scientists used satellite imagery and drift modeling to identify a location at latitude 35.6°S and longitude 92.8°E, near the seventh arc defined by satellite data, as the most likely location for the missing plane.

Overview of the location of four satellite images of possible MH370 debris taken by French Military Intelligence Service CNES Note these are low-resolution images only.

The 440-page ATSB report being examined by the Malaysians chronicled the extraordinary efforts by investigators and scientists to find the missing Boeing 777-200ER and noted that the understanding of where MH370 is located was now “better than ever”

“It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board,’’ it said.

MH370 debris
Close up in low resolution of a piece of suspected debris from MH370 taken by French Military Intelligence Service CNES

The new findings and Ocean Infinity’s “no-find, no-fee” offer has put enormous pressure on the Malaysians to resume the search or explain why they are not attempting to resolve modern aviation’s greatest mystery.

Transport Minister Liow confirmed to Malaysian media at a briefing earlier this month that the government was considering the new search offers.

He also revealed a Cabinet paper was being prepared on the search operation and what Malaysia could do to find the missing plane.

He said the three countries involved in the search — Australia, Malaysia, and China —  would discuss further actions only if credible new evidence emerged.

“This is because we can’t simply give false hope to the families of those who had lost their lives,’’ he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.   “This is important as we are responsible for whatever actions we undertake.

“Rest assured that we are still looking into all possible elements to find any new leads. We haven’t given up (trying) to find the plane.”

Despite Liow’s reservations about creating false hope, MH370 families used the ATSB report and the Ocean Infinity offer to renew their push to have the search resumed.

A group representing the families, Voice370, pointed to obligations under International Civil Aviation Organisation rules to find the plane.

The governments involved were also obliged to bring closure to family members’ “continued suffering at heart”, the group said.

Global experts have thrown their weight behind a renewed search and ATSB staff are  keen to see it continued.

However,  the experts have warned all existing leads will be exhausted if the plane is not found in the new search area.

Malaysia has yet to release the final accident report on the crash investigation by an international team set up under former Department of Civil Aviation director-general Kok Soo Chon.

Attempts to contact the Malaysian Government for comment were unsuccessful.