Our best chance for s olving the mystery of the missing Malaysia 777 hinges on finding the bulk of the wreckage, especially the "black boxes" that record the most vital information about what happened on board.
Twelve days into the search, efforts have been "haphazard," said search expert Colleen Keller. And time to find the plane is running short.
Keller is a senior analyst at Metron, a consulting company hired by the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) to help find the wreckage of Air France 447 in the Atlantic after early efforts failed.
The first few days of an effort like this are a "hasty search," Keller said in an interview. The fact that some people on board could potentially still be alive has led searchers to frantically follow any leads — and there have been a lot of very different leads in this case.
Additionally, Keller argued, with 25 countries helping out, it's hard to keep exact track of which areas have been searched. "I'm not seeing any indication" that good records are being kept, she said.
At this point, finding floating debris from the Malaysia plane would only offer tentative clues to the location of any wreckage, she said. When debris from the Air France crash was found, different search teams used computer modeling to figure out where it first entered the water, based on ocean currents. They all got different results, Keller said.
"Reverse drift is difficult to use right from the get-go," she said. So if the team finds debris from Malaysia flight 370 now, let alone days, weeks or months from now, it will still be "very difficult" to find the bulk of the wreckage.
But if no surface debris is ever found, there would be close to no possibility of finding underwater wreckage. In that case, Keller said, "I would say there's zero hope ... the floating wreckage is really key."
It doesn't help that we don't know what body of water the plane went down in — or if it's somewhere on land. The Indian Ocean, Gulf of Thailand, Strait of Malacca, and South China Sea are all candidates, as is much of Asia.
Officials now believe the jet likely flew into the Southern India Ocean, which will make finding it harder still. The water is deep, and much of it is far from land — far from airports and ports. "The remoteness of it makes it difficult to spend time there, and that's what you need to do, spend time," Keller said.
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