Plane debris recovered from an island may finally yield answers to one of aviation’s
biggest mysteries – what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, and the 239 people on board the plane when it went missing 17 months ago?
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. While most of those on board were Chinese, there were also Australians and Malaysians.
Australia has been leading the search for the missing plane over the last few months, in a massive undertaking that was to cover 46,000 square miles total of area – and reportedly costing the country $76 million, on top of a $40 million contribution from Malaysia. China had sent naval ships early in the search efforts, but has not given any financial contributions, and is under no legal requirement to do so.
Prior to the Australian search, rescue and recovery efforts were attempted on the Gulf of Thailand, into the South China Sea, off the coast of Vietnam and the Andaman Sea, based on tracked signals and sightings of possible debris. The current search area, southwest of Australia, was ultimately determined based on satellite information transmitted from the plane in the hours after it dropped from radar. Search efforts of the last few months would ultimately involve 26 countries, high tech equipment, and surface ships, planes and even an unmanned submarine – but to no avail.
July, however, finally saw a breakthrough. Plane debris was found on the shores of France’s Reunion Island – thousands of miles away from the current search area. A recovered aircraft flaperon has since been confirmed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as having been a part of the lost MH370. Drift models from lead search country Australia indicate debris from their existing search area could have washed up toward Reunion Island based on how the material could have been carried by wind and ocean currents. Reverse drift modeling, however, may also be regarded as imprecise over a long span of time.
Since the recovery of the wing flaperon, and experts stating a high likelihood that it is from the missing flight, France has initiated an air and sea search of 120 km by 40 km off the coast of Reunion Island. The search area was determined based on where the flaperon was recovered, and taking into consideration calculations of sea currents. If no significant recoveries are made in the active search, it is scheduled to end by next week. As for the search going on in the Indian Ocean, the area will be re-determined and refined given the new information, in a tripartite meeting between Australia, Malaysia and China, probably sometime in September.
Though the recent developments may finally offer up some answers for those who have lost family and friends in the tragedy, they are not without controversy. France has been very cautious in its approach to the investigation, while some Malaysian officials have been accused of spreading misinformation. China has also been criticized for not contributing enough to the search, even as 153 of those lost in the flight were from the country.
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“MH370 search off Reunion Island to end.” Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Aug 2015. Web. 16 Aug 2015. http://www.smh.com.au/world/mh370-search-off-reunion-island-to-end-20150814-giznf4.html
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Whitman, Elizabeth. “Flight MH370 Update: China Not Paying Fair Share Of Search Costs, Australia Says.” International Business Times, 12 Aug 2015. Web. 16 Aug 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/flight-mh370-update-china-not-paying-fair-share-search-costs-australia-says-2050055
Willsher, Kim and Julien Delarue. “MH370 crash: France launches new search for plane debris off Réunion.” The Guardian, 07 Aug 2015. Web. 16 Aug 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/07/mh370-crash-france-new-search-plane-debris-reunion