Hunt for MH370 doubles search area

2The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could be extended by an additional 60,000 sq km to bring the search area to 120,000 sq km, in an effort to cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis.

Searching the additional area could also take up to a year to complete, given the adverse weather conditions in the winter months. “Upon completion of the additional 60,000 square kilometres, all high probability search areas will have been covered,” said the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in a MH370 operational update.

The decision to extend the search was taken at a ministerial meeting between Australia, Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China on 16 April in Kuala Lumpur.

It said that based on a careful analysis of all available evidence, search efforts remain focused on an area in the southern Indian Ocean defined by the ATSB’s Search Strategy Working Group which continues its analysis of the satellite communication system messages and aircraft performance.

1“This ongoing effort may result in refinements to the search area along the seventh arc,” it said.

The path of MH370 was recorded by radar for the first hour and forty minutes of its flight.  After that time there were seven instances of satellite communication or ‘handshakes’ between the aircraft and a satellite ground station. In addition, two unanswered satellite phone calls were made to the aircraft.

Analysis of data recorded at the ground station allowed both a determination of the aircraft’s distance from the satellite at the time of each handshake; and a calculation of probable flight paths over a six-hour period.

“The calculation of probable flight paths showed conclusively that the aircraft was travelling in a southerly direction across the Indian Ocean for the last hours of its flight,” it said.

The aircraft’s distance from the satellite at each handshake is shown as an arc. Because there is an inherent level of uncertainty in the calculations, each arc is about thirty kilometres wide. The range of most probable flight paths extends about 1,100 kilometres along the final, seventh arc. This gives the northerly and southerly limits of the search area.

Distance from satellite at handshake“Analysis of the performance of a Boeing 777-200ER shows that the aircraft would have exhausted its fuel by the seventh arc,” it said. “Given the predicted behaviour of the aircraft when its fuel was exhausted, MH370 is unlikely to have travelled more than 30 kilometres west or 50 kilometres east of the seventh arc. This gives the westerly and easterly limits of the search area.”

“Theories suggesting the aircraft is located to the north or significantly to the west of Sumatra are not supported by known facts or careful analysis. It is for this reason the aircraft cannot be in Kazakhstan, Diego Garcia or the Maldives.”

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