Official Report: Flight 370 Crashed 1,500 miles Southwest of Australia
March 24, 2014 8:00 PM
(Source: Youtube China)
Search is still on for the wreckage and black box, with several spottings reported
Today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, more than two weeks of mystery and searching came to a close. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that compelling evidence existed that missing flight MH370 had crashed into the Pacific and that the 239 people on board (227 passengers and 12 crew members) had perished.
I. At Last, the Answer to One Big Question
The story was intriguing, in part, because the aircraft involved -- the Boeing Comp.'s (
-- had previously owned a near perfect track record. The Boeing 777 had previously only seen 4 incidents that damaged the hull of a plane -- two of these incidents involved overrunning the runway. Only the most recent incident -- the July 2013 crash of an Asiana Airlines passenger craft at San Francisco International Airport -- led to any fatalities. That incident, still under investigation, led to the deaths of 3 of the craft's 307 passengers.
Flying on a Boeing 777 from a historic standpoint would be considered a pretty safe travel plan from a statistical standpoint. Unfortunately, the Malaysian Airlines (Malaysia Airlines System Bhd (
)) flight would buck that track record, becoming the deadliest crash in the aircraft's history.
A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 jet [Image Source: The Washington Post]
Flight MH370 took off from Malaysia's capital and most populous city, Kuala Lumpur, on March 8. Scheduled for a relatively short flight to Beijing, the aircraft never arrived. It veered sharply eastward, travelling over Thailand, while
reportedly making wild changes in altitude
From there the aircraft seemingly vanished leaving everyone wondering where it went. The two leading theories were that it flew south, which would place it in somewhere off the west coast of Australia, or north, which would put it somewhere in the northern Indian Ocean, off the east coast of India.
The Malaysian airlines flight (not pictured) deviated sharply from its course after taking off from the Malaysian capital city, en route to Beijing, China. [Image Source: AP]
The U.S., China, UK, India, Australia, and various European nations set aside their political differences for the moment and embarked on an ambitious international hunt to find the wreck of MH370.
Critical clues to the craft's final destination came via UK satellite company Inmarsat plc (
), which built semi-autonomous location services into every Boeing 777. Working in unison with the UK's
Air Accidents Investigation Branch
(AAIB), the data from responses to "pings" -- data requests to the aircrafts computer -- eventually allowed the crash site to be narrowed to a patch of ocean 1,500 miles (2,500km) off the southwest coast of Australia.
Inmarsat's engineers worked all through this last weekend to try a never-before-used technique to analyze the data in the face of lacking data to further triangulate the craft's trajectory by traditional means.
Malaysia authorities say they are now confident that the aircraft went south and crashed.
[Image Source: BBC News]
The new technique reportedly compared data pings from past aircraft traveling over both locations in order to zero in on where exactly the craft was. The tactic was, by all accounts, a remarkable and brilliant success. With a refined location searchers from China and Malaysia were reportedly able to spot debris, likely the remains of MH370.
II. Debris Sighted
In his statement the Malaysian PM said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that the plane had crashed. He went on to state:
[We] have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
As of late yesterday the actual crash site
had yet to be located definitively
. French satellite images showed what appeared to be belts (possibly seatbelts from destroyed craft, a wooden pallet, and other items that might be buoyant pieces of a wrecked Boeing 777. China, meanwhile, spotted a 72 ft. by 43 ft. sunken object that was roughly in the same region via satellite.
But investigators have to line those reports up with an actual location in the remote stretch of sea, something they were unable to do on Sunday.
[Image Source: Graphic News]
While it's perhaps dangerous for family members of the passengers to hold too much hope that their family members survived the crash, some have held on to hope that some passengers might have been able to deploy a life raft and survive. Roughly two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese.
An infographic shows the nationality of flight MH370's passengers. [Image Source: AFP]
China's Foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, announced a fresh finding of possible debris at a press conference, stating:
We are still racing against time. As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on.
The race has high stakes, as whatever debris is floating could easily float miles away in hours, driven by ocean currents. On Monday, China's two search planes in the region spotted two large objects and several smaller ones scattered across several kilometers. According to Mr. Lei, one of these objects was white and rectangular. A second flyover by a US Navy P8 Poseidon, a large Boeing military aircraft, was unable to spot the objects the Chinese planes had seen.
III. Hunt for Black Box Continues, as Chinese Family Members Express Outrage at Malaysia's Government
The latest hopes come courtesy of a Lockheed Martin Corp. (
) P3 Orion deployed by Australia, which spotted two objects -- "the first grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular", according to
a news report
China has diverted an additional six warships to help scour the region.
A Chinese sailor searches the possible wreckage are for signs of debris. [Image Source: Xinhua]
Reactions from family members have been varied. In Malaysia, there seemed to be a grim acceptance among the family members and loved ones of passengers, most of whom were Muslim. Selamat Omar, the father of a 29-year-old junior aviation engineer onboard the flight,
We accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate.
In China, the Malaysian PM's statements were greeted with fresh fury, however. A statement read to the media from the family members and loved ones of the Chinese passengers,
[The Malaysian government] misled, delayed the research and rescue, wasted a lot of man power, and material resources and we lost the most valuable rescue opportunity. If our 154 relatives lost their lives because of it, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government, and the Malaysian military are [their] killers.
Even if debris can be located, it is unclear whether they will be able to solve the biggest mystery -- the events that doomed the flight. Some have speculated that the airline was hijacked. Theories towards that end have ranged from speculation that perhaps one of the pilots incapacitated the other and decided in order to carry out a suicide flight, or that one or more terrorists were hidden among the flight's passengers and hijacked the craft.
Once the crash's wreckage can be definitively found, the hunt for the blackbox can step up.
[Image Source: 9bytz]
On the other hand, it's possible that the craft suffered some sort of catastrophic damage that may have left the pilots struggling for control. The craft was carrying 200 kg of flammable lithium-ion batteries. While that backup power system was reportedly inspected and deemed safe, Boeing has suffered past issues with
battery fires with a similar pack used in the newer Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft
, which forced it to commit to a series of redesigns.
Some have suggested that the plane's autopilot systems could have kicked in and kept it flying at cruising altitude for several hours as a "zombie plane" if some catastrophic failure incapacitated and/or killed the passengers and crew.
The plane's black box could yield vital clues as to what happened. The
U.S. Pacific Command
has a vessel en route with a black box detector that is towed behind the craft. If the backup power is intact and the wreckage is at 6,100 metres (20,000 ft.) the detector may be able to locate signals in the wreckage region, and dispatch manned submarines and/or autonomous deep-water vehicles in a recovery attempt.
Malaysian PM via AP on YouTube
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