The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has just released two reports that are being taken as an indication that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have gone down in an area of the southern Indian Ocean just north of the zone searched previously.

One report, from the government agency Geoscience Australia, provides an analysis of four images that were taken by a French military satellite just two weeks after MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.

The images show “probably man-made” objects in the ocean very close to the former search zone off the western coast of Australia, the agency said.

Images taken by the PLEIADES 1A French military satellite over the Indian Ocean on March 23, 2014.

The second report, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), contains the conclusions of drift modelling of debris that has been found on the African mainland and on islands off the African coast.

Australia suspended the underwater search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean in January this year, but the ATSB continued with what it describes as “some residual analysis activity”.

“Geoscience Australia identified a number of objects in the satellite imagery which have been classified as probably man-made,” said the chief commissioner of the ATSB, Greg Hood.

“The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world.”

Given the objects’ proximity to the former underwater search area, the CSIRO conducted a drift study to determine their geographic origin so as to provide an indication of where they were likely to have been on March 8, 2014.

The ATSB says the drift study found that the projected location on March 8 of the objects identified in most of the satellite images was consistent with the area identified by experts during the MH370 “First Principles Review” meeting¹ in Canberra, Australia, in November 2016.

“Clearly we must be cautious,” Hood said. “These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris.”

The ATSB says the objects detected by the French satellite appeared to form clusters, rather than being randomly scattered across the area.

“The information contained within the Geoscience Australia and CSIRO reports may be useful in informing any further search effort that may be mounted in the future,” Hood said.

“Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search.”

In its Drift Report, Part 3, the CSIRO states that three of the images taken by the French military satellite contained nine, two and one objects, respectively, that were classified as “probably man-made” and 28 “possibly man-made” objects.

“The dimensions of these objects are comparable with some of the debris items that have washed up on African beaches and their location near the 7th Arc² makes them impossible to ignore.

“But there is no evidence to confirm that any of these objects (let alone all) are pieces of 9M-MRO (the aircraft flying as MH370).”

The CSIRO’s new analysis collates with the ATSB’s conclusion last November that MH370’s location was likely to be north of the area that it spent more than two-and-a-half years searching.

“Taking drift model uncertainty into account, we have found that the objects identified in most of the images can be associated with a single location within the previously-identified region suggested by other lines of evidence,” the CSIRO report states.

“Furthermore, we think it is possible to identify a most-likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty.”

Drift modelling from the CSIRO report. Photo courtesy of the ATSB.

The CSIRO specifies this location as 35.6°S, 92.8°E. It says that it has “a high degree of confidence” that the plane’s impact was in the southern half of the new search area proposed last year (near 35°S) was more consistent with detection of debris in the images than was an impact in the northern half of that area.

K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, says it is outrageous that it has taken so long for images taken two weeks after the plane disappeared to emerge in the public domain. “It’s just shameful,” he said.

“It may amount to nothing and the images may take us no closer to the MH370 site. However, questions must surely be raised about the lack of transparency, collaboration, and data sharing, and about a silence driven by national security concerns, not just on the part of Malaysia, but also France. There are others who owe us explanations as well.”

Why, if the French had the images in their possession, did they hang on to them for so long? Narendran asks. And when did the images come into Australia’s possession?

“If Australia had these in their possession all along then they need to explain why they were not made available for a composite analysis.”

The Australian media went into overdrive as soon as news of the reports came out, talking about an “explosive new report” and “startling new evidence”, and running stories with such headlines as “satellite images ‘pinpoint’ location of missing plane” and the less definitive, but oddly phrased, “virtually pinpointed” as a popular alternative.

The relatives of those on board MH370 are well used to seeing over-the-top headlines. Narendren, who lives in Chennai, India, says he is now immune to them.

“We are still dealing with a probabilistic scenario,” said Narendran, “but let’s see if all this stirs Malaysia to do something.”

Company’s offer to begin new search

The seabed exploration firm Ocean Infinity in the United States has proposed to search for MH370, but the Malaysian government has not yet stated whether or not it is accepting the offer.

The company says that it will only accept payment for the search if it finds the plane.

Voice370, which is the association for relatives of those on board MH370, said in a recent statement: “It has been more than four months now since Ocean Infinity first made the offer to carry out the search with a fee payable contingent upon success. We believe this offer should be accepted without further delay.

“Why hasn’t Malaysia accepted this win-win offer? Especially since the transport minister of Malaysia has repeatedly stated that lack of funds has never been an issue vis-à-vis the search for MH370.”

Voice370 called on the Malaysian government to share with Voice370, the aviation industry, and the flying public when a decision on the proposal was expected. It also asked Malaysia to provide information about the evaluation criteria being used in the decision-making process, and give details about the Ocean Infinity proposal “including what constitutes success and qualifies for a fee payable”.

Voice 370 also wants to know what plans Malaysia and its partners have for recovery of MH370 should the search be successful.

“It bears remembering that Malaysia remains principally responsible to fund, search and retrieve MH370, that the identified search area lies within Australia’s search and rescue region, and that China has the most number of citizens on board.”

Debris discoveries

Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong La, said at the remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur on March 4 this year that 25 pieces of debris had been found and analysed, and two more items had more recently been discovered in South Africa.

There had been confirmation that three pieces of debris belonged to MH370, Liow said, and five others were “almost certainly” from the plane. Further analysis would be carried out on the remaining items, he said.

An aircraft flaperon found on Reunion island in July 2015, which the French authorities say is from MH370.

A wing flap found on Pemba Island, east of Tanzania, which the Malaysian authorities say has been confirmed to be from MH370,

US lawsuit

lawsuit has been filed in the United States against Boeing that alleges a series of catastrophic electrical and other failures on board MH370.

It is claimed that an electrical fire caused MH370 to depressurise, and the crew became incapacitated.

The plaintiffs in the case are lawyer Gregory Keith and the relatives of 44 passengers who were aboard MH370.

Keith filed the case in the US District Court in South Carolina.

The plaintiffs allege that Boeing knew about design flaws on the 777 aircraft, including defective wiring near combustible sources like the emergency oxygen supply to the plane’s crew.

They say that “the disappearance and crash of MH370 was caused or partially caused by defects in the design, manufacture and/or assembly of the aircraft”.

 

  1. Experts in data processing, satellite communications, accident investigation, aircraft performance, flight operations, sonar data, acoustic data, and oceanography reassessed existing evidence and discussed whether there was any new analysis that might help locate the missing plane.
  2.  The 7th arc is an arc that was determined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370. It is the Inmarsat analysis that led investigators to focus their search in the southern Indian Ocean.

 

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