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The view from Fugro Equator: The ship has had to contend with some terrible weather.
The next phase of the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 will be very challenging in places.
Detailed information being gathered about the shape of the ocean floor west of Australia confirms the seabed in some locations to be extremely rugged.
Two vessels – the Fugro Equator and the Zhu Kezhen – are currently mapping an area covering 60,000 sq km.
This survey will guide a metre-by-metre search using towed instruments and submersibles.
This is likely to get under way towards the end of September.
The Australian authorities have warned that this could take a year to complete.
The Dutch-owned Fugro Equator and the Chinese naval vessel Zhu Kezhen are presently assembling a bathymetric (depth) map.
Dutch vessel is equipped with a state-of-the-art multibeam echosounder.
It covers the general location in the southern Indian Ocean where investigators believe MH370 is most likely to have come down.
The map is akin to a broad canvas – a first-ever proper look at a terrain about which there is the slimmest of knowledge.
It is essential work. Without this map, which has a resolution of roughly 25m in the deepest depths, it would not be safe to put down submersibles, as there is a high risk these vehicles would be lost.
“There are volcanoes down there we’ve found which were unknown before,” says Paul Kennedy from Fugro Survey Pty Ltd.
“There are all sorts of new features that are appearing,” the company’s project director for the MH370 search told BBC News.
The Fugro Equator is equipped with a state-of-the-art multibeam echosounder.
The vast majority of the area it is covering has never been sampled before.
It has recorded depths near to 6,000m. Even the shallow regions are more than 1,000m down.
But it is the craggy nature of the seabed that will prompt extreme caution to be exercised in the next phase of operations.
two-thirds of the high-priority zone (yellow) has now been mapped.
Fugro has been contracted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to conduct this part of the search as well.
It will involve the Equator and another ship, the Fugro Discovery. Both ships will pull a deep-tow instrument very close to the sea floor using a 10,000m armoured fibre-optic cable.
“There are areas that are benign and are going to be fairly straightforward. But then there are some areas that we know are going to be really hard work,” explained Mr Kennedy.
“There are some huge valleys between big mountains, and it’s going to be really hard to tow our device through those areas. We can do it; it’s just going to take a bit longer.”
The Equator and a second ship, the Fugro Discovery, will use deep-tow instruments.
Mr Kennedy likens the deep-tow’s capabilities to human senses.
Echosounders are its ears; cameras represent its eyes; and a chemical sensor works like a nose.
This nose will “sniff” for the presence of any jet fuel in the water, down to a few parts per billion in concentration.
Assembling the bathymetric map has been a tough job in itself.
The Equator has had to contend with some terrible winter weather.
“Heave is the vertical displacement of a vessel – that’s how you measure the size of the waves,” Mr Kennedy said.
“We record it, and you correct for it when computing the bathymetric depth. The biggest heave we’ve had so far is 13m. That’s a big wave.
“Fortunately, the vessel has anti-roll tanks, which push water from side to side inside the ship with great big pumps, and that helps tremendously.
“To get a clean map of the sea floor, we must know the attitude of the ship very accurately, to 0.02 of a degree.”
The Malaysian plane was lost on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 239 people.
Its disappearance has become one the biggest mysteries in aviation history.
The best information investigators have for its whereabouts come for a series of brief satellite communications with the jet during its flight.
The last of these connections suggests MH370 crashed into the water inside the “high priority” search zone now being surveyed by the Dutch and Chinese vessels.
satellite track of the Fugro Equator shows how it is systematically mapping the ocean floor.
Article first appeared on the BBC News website.
Remains of those killed not expected to be returned to Malaysia for some time as forensic testing in Netherlands continues.
in Kuala Lumpur
A Malaysia Airlines flight attendant in Kuala Lumpur lights a candle during a special multi-faith prayer for the MH17 crash victims. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty
Families of the passengers and crew members on board missing flight MH370 have begun offering counselling to the relatives of those who died last week on downed flight MH17.
The remains of MH17 victims are not expected to arrive back in Malaysia for many more weeks. “No one deserves to go through what they’re going through,” said Jacquita Gonzalez, wife of MH370 in-flight supervisor Patrick Francis Gomez.
“Right now they [the MH17 bereaved] are like we were in the beginning: quiet and wanting their space. But we are here for them, we actually know what they’re going through, we know this is so painful, so hard.”
The offer came at a crucial time just one week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in the early hours of Friday 18 July in the Donetsk region on the Ukraine-Russia border, where it is believed pro-Russia separatists fired a surface-to-air missile at the aircraft, killing all 298 people on board.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak – who was lauded last week after negotiating directly with pro-Russia separatists for the return of the black boxes and the passengers’ remains – had previously stated that the Malaysian remains were expected by the end of Ramadan. But he confirmed last week that their return could take much longer owing to forensic testing in the Netherlands, where the remains of 282 passengers – including 43 Malaysians, among them 15 crew – arrived on Wednesday.
“There are technicalities and legal requirements that cannot be avoided,” he said. “It is highly unlikely for the remains to be brought back soon.”
Dutch experts have now begun the difficult process of verifying and identifying the remains using DNA samples collected from next-of-kin. A special Malaysian crisis team, as well as a group of psychologists, chemists, forensics experts and police, are currently in Kharkiv to help with the investigation, while six other hospital teams in Malaysia are awaiting the remains once they arrive back from Holland via C-130 military plane, local media reported.
Malaysia Airlines and Malaysia’s department of civil aviation are also working on removing all evidence from the crash site for further investigation – a complicated endeavour given that the site is on the frontline of a war zone.
“The bodies may have to remain in Holland longer for a post-mortem to determine the elements of criminality,” the health minister, Subramaniam Sathasivam told the New Straits Times.
“There is strong suspicion that the plane was shot down. There is a possibility that countries affected may want to seek justice for their citizens.”
He added that the amount of evidence required to build a criminal case would take time and potentially delay the eventual repatriation of the bodies.
The victims’ friends and families have been left saddened that they will not be able to receive the bodies as soon as they had hoped.
Dutch experts have now begun the difficult process of verifying and identifying the remains using DNA samples collected from next-of-kin.
Murphy Govind, the brother of MH17 stewardess Angeline Premila Rajandran, said: “It is sad that the bodies will not be home before [Eid, the end of the fasting period] but there’s nothing we can do. We can just hope for the best.
“As long as the Dutch people are doing their job identifying the bodies, we just hope that they can do it as soon as possible.”
The tragedy has added further pain to a nation reeling after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March, and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. For the family and friends of those on board MH370, the crash of MH17 is a stark reminder of how little closure there is for understanding what happened to the 239 people on board.
“I’m glad that MH17 is being settled and at least they have the remains coming back, they know where the plane is – now it’s about who’s at fault an who did that,” said Gonzalez, who met her husband when she was 12, married him at 22, and was grieving on his 51st birthday last Thursday.
“But we are still in limbo, we don’t know anything because we haven’t heard anything about MH370 … We also want closure, we want to know what happened.”
Instead of drawing the nation together, in some ways, the double tragedy has further amplified religious tension among Malaysians, who comprise Chinese, Indians and ethnic Malay Muslims.
It is often argued that Malay Muslims receive special benefits not available to other Malaysians, from government positions to scholarships.
A government announcement that “special arrangements” had been made for the remains of the 21 Muslim passengers on board MH17, with the Islamic religious and development departments providing logistics and a special burial site, was questioned over the lack of clarity on how the remaining Malaysian bodies would be handled.
“The fact that the Malaysian government is announcing special arrangements for only less than half of the total number of Malaysians killed in this tragedy seems a little awkward,” one news report noted.
Adding to controversy, an MP caused an uproar after by telling parliament alcohol and revealing uniforms should be banned from all Malaysian flights to avoid “Allah’s wrath”. “If smoking is prohibited on flights, what more alcohol? This must not be allowed on our flights,” said Siti Zailah Yusof, speaking in parliament earlier this week.
“Another thing the government should pay attention to is the dress code of female flight attendants, especially Muslim flight attendants.
“No one should die in sin … This must be taken into consideration: we cannot stop Allah’s wrath.”
Siti’s comments were met with derision and disbelief by citizens and NGOs alike, who called her comments “sexist, discriminatory and condescending”.
“Such a statement is insensitive and irrelevant, especially at a time when the grieving nation is still recovering,” said human rights NGO Empower in a statement. “The MP failed to understand that the victims died because MH17 was shot down by perpetrators who have still not been brought to justice.”
Almost 300 people are presumed dead after a Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in eastern Ukraine close to the border with Russia.
Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was flying over the war-torn region when it disappeared from radar. Some 280 passengers and 15 crew members were on board.
What type of plane was it?
The crashed plane was a Boeing 777-200ER, the same model as that of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 – Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Left Amsterdam: 10:15 GMT
Lost contact: 14:15 GMT at 10,000m (33,000ft)
According to Malaysia Airlines, the plane departed Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 10:15 GMT (12:15 local time) on 17 July and lost contact four hours later at 14:15 GMT – 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border. It was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 22:10 GMT (06:10 local time).
It had been due to enter Russian airspace when contact was lost.
Both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels who have been fighting in the region have denied shooting it down.
Debris from the plane is strewn over several kilometres
An adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, Anton Herashchenko, alleges that the plane was hit by a missile fired by a Buk launcher – a Russian-made, medium-range surface-to-air missile system.
Ukraine has accused Russia’s military of supplying advanced missiles to the rebels.
However, separatist leader Alexander Borodai accused the Ukrainian government of downing the airliner itself.
“Apparently, it’s a passenger airliner indeed, truly shot down by the Ukrainian air force,” he told Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 TV broadcaster.
Buk surface-to-air missile system
Also known as SA-11 Gadfly (or newer SA-17 Grizzly)
Russian-made, mobile, medium range system
Weapons: Four surface-to-air missiles
Missile speed (max): Mach 3
Target altitude (max): 22,000 metres (72,000ft)
Source: Global Security
Flight MH370 appeared to be on autopilot across Indian Ocean.
SYDNEY— Australian authorities said they believe that someone onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 switched on the autopilot system deliberately after the plane turned toward the southern Indian Ocean. They also theorized that all 239 passengers and crew had become unresponsive, possibly after being deprived of oxygen, before the plane ran out of fuel and crashed.
Those were the main reasons the Australian Transport Safety Bureau gave in a report Thursday for setting a massive new search area — the third in as many months for the airliner, which disappeared March 8. The new hunt is slated to restart in August as much as 600 miles south of the previous underwater focus.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said it was “highly, highly likely” the autopilot was switched on deliberately after the plane had veered off its assigned course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
That is more definitive than investigators have been about human intervention setting up the flight path toward one of the most remote sections of the globe.
The ATSB stressed, however, that its conclusions weren’t backed up by hard evidence, and that Malaysian authorities heading the overall probe may not share their view.
Left unanswered are why Flight 370 deviated sharply from its planned route, or what might have caused the oxygen depletion, known as hypoxia, if that is what occurred.
The Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines didn’t comment on the report.
The Australians said they justified their assumptions in part because the plane appeared to travel for a long period—about five hours—without any radio communication or dramatic turns or deviations, and presumably without significant altitude changes. They also looked at aircraft maneuvers in previous commercial-plane crashes related to hypoxia.
By Daniel Stacey, Andy Pasztor and David Winning.
The surface of Mars has been mapped in greater detail than most of Earth’s seafloor. Even though the Red Planet is around 140 million miles away on average (and never closer than 34 million miles), its surface is easier to map because there is no water obscuring it. The lack of good information about ocean floor topography has complicated the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
Now, two ocean floor mapping experts have gathered all the available data to make a new map of a 2,000 km by 1,400 km (1,240 mile by 870 mile) area in the Indian Ocean near where two boats may have detected pings from the plane’s black box. The map appears today in EOS Transactions, a news publication from the American Geophysical Union.
There are two depth survey tracks made by ships using echo sounders in the area, but these cover only around 5 percent of the search area. And they were done in the ’60s, before GPS navigation was available, so the ships navigated by dead reckoning, using very few set points. The measurements were recorded on paper scrolls, and digitising this type of analogue data is known to introduce errors of 100 meters or more.
So Walter Smith and Karen Marks of NOAA’s Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry filled in the blanks using data gathered from space. Satellites can gauge seafloor topography by measuring the height of the sea surface. This works because an undersea mountain has more mass, and consequently a stronger gravitational pull on the water, which causes a bulge of water to gather above it. Satellites map the sea surface topography by sending radar pulses to the sea surface and measuring how long it takes for them to return.
The resolution of this kind of satellite mapping is only about 20 kilometres (12 miles), but combining this data with ship tracks and information culled from news reports resulted in the best possible map of the area. It shows complicated terrain in the search area that ranges from 1637 metres below sea level (at the top of Batavia Plateau, marked BR on the map) down to 7,883 metres (in the Wallaby-Zenith fracture zone, marked D on the map), a vertical drop of 6,246 metres (almost 4 miles).
Having a better picture of the terrain they are dealing with could help search crews decide which underwater robots to deploy, and could help scientists trying to model where floating debris may have eventually settled.