High-tech ship loaded with submersibles en route to new zone identified by Australian authorities
A high-tech vessel run by a US exploration firm is en route to resume the hunt for flight MH370 in a new bid to solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
The Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared with 239 people on board in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing after diverting from its flight path.
No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000 square kilometre zone selected by satellite analysis of the jet’s likely trajectory and the Australian-led hunt – the largest in aviation history – was called off in January last year. The abandonment of the search triggered angry protest from distraught relatives of those on board.
But it looks set to resume soon. Research vessel Seabed Constructor, leased by US marine-survey firm Ocean Infinity, has set off from South Africa for the Indian Ocean with the aim of arriving in the search zone by mid-January, a source familiar with the matter said.
It is hoped by this time the Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity will have finalised a deal for the hunt to resume.
The Texas-based Ocean Infinity have reportedly told the Malaysian government that there would be no fee if they couldn’t locate the aircraft. If they find the wreckage within 90 days of beginning the search, however, they’ll receive $90 million (Bt2.9 billion).
Malaysia’s Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi said negotiations for the firm to restart the hunt on a “no find, no fee” basis were in the final stages.
“They [Ocean Infinity] know we are very serious in taking their offer,” he said.
A spokesman for the company added: “The company are awaiting final contract award before the search recommences.”
Ocean Infinity was one of three companies which had bid to resume the hunt.
The source, who declined to be identified, said that the firm had decided to send the Seabed Constructor, a Norwegian research vessel, to the southern Indian Ocean so that it was ready to start searching in a window of good weather expected in January and February.
The vessel is carrying several autonomous submarines that can be launched from the boat to scour the seabed for fragments of the jet.
Australia’s national science body CSIRO released a report in April that said the doomed plane was “most likely” north of the former search zone in an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres.
Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.
A top air crash investigator, John Cox, has said that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s “ghost flight” and “death dive” theories are wrong. He says evidence from
recovered wing flaps suggests the pilot was flying the aircraft until
the end and ditched it.
In October, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau published its final 440-page report into the search, which spanned 1,046 days from the time the Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared on March 8, 2014, until it was suspended in January.
“We ... deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing,” the report said.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of people involved in the search from around the world, the aircraft has not been located.”
A top air crash investigator, John Cox, previously said that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s “ghost flight” and “death dive” theories are wrong. He says evidence from recovered wing flaps suggests the pilot was flying the aircraft until the end and ditched it.
Australia has agreed to provide technical assistance to the Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity but will not be contributing any funds.
The ABC reports that Ocean Infinity will be searching the seabed in the 25,000 square kilometre zone identified by Australia’s CSIRO just north of the original search location.
The US company is expected to cover 1200 square kilometres a day, the Economist reports.
Ocean Infinity uses underwater vehicles that are capable of operating at depths of up to 6,000 metres and can collect data at “record-breaking speeds’’, the company’s website says.
“With multiple autonomous vehicle working simultaneously utilising innovative technology, we are able to survey huge swathes of the seabed, quickly and with outstanding accuracy.’’
While the company generally uses six such vehicles, sources reportedly told the website AirlineRatings.com that eight vehicles will be used in the search for MH370.