Update article from Extreme Tech website.
The ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airliner MH370 took a turn for the worse this week as investigators were forced to greatly expand their target search area, while shifting the area currently under investigation further to the south. The search vessels were forced to change the target area by inclement weather. It’s now winter in the southern hemisphere, and the rough seas make it impossible for the research vessels to perform their work. Moving the search area southwards will give the team time to take advantage of the last useful weather.
Authorities claim that they remain confident of finding the aircraft. But mathematically, there’s no way to refine the current search projections. The image below shows the area searched through April 2015 in red, with the planned search extension shown in the bounded box.
The search grid as of April, 2015.
The new search area would be 2x the size of the previous one, at a total of 46,000 square miles. In a brief statement, the Australian Safety Bureau’s Joint Agency Coordination Center said, “The search into the expanded area has already commenced, with search efforts focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the usable weather in that area,” it said. “The search plan has been modified to enable continuous search operations during winter and to ensure that the entire [46,000 square mile] area is searched as quickly and effectively as possible.
The statement added: “Expert advice is that the highest probability of locating the aircraft is within the [46,000 square mile] search area. Beyond that, it is not possible to refine the search area to one of greater likelihood.”
What if we can’t find the plane?
If the searchers can’t find the plane directly, is there any hope for indirect methods? The short answer is, “Not much.” Wreckage from the plane could still conceivably wash up on a shoreline somewhere across the world. Detritus from the Fukushima earthquake is still washing up on US shores, four years after the disaster. An estimated million tons of debris still lingers in the Pacific Ocean.
Knowing where wreckage washed up might tell us something about the location of MH370 in the most general sense, but such slender threads would still rely on people 1) finding the wreckage in the first place and 2) recognizing it as part of a downed aircraft. A simple armrest, plastic tray, or a tangle of wire might well go unnoticed. Depending on where the plane went down, the wreckage might have drifted southeast and been caught by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. That current races, nearly unobstructed, around the bottom of the Earth — debris caught in it could eventually end up buried in ice on the coasts of Antarctica.
Whether Australia and Malaysia will commit to searching the full mathematical search area (much of which was deemed unlikely to contain the plane) is still unclear. MH 370’s disappearance into the ocean could become another Marie Celeste.