March 24, 2014

Flight 370 update — likely correct, surely a week late

I agree with Malaysia's prime minister that Flight 370 is likely at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Or, technically, depending on how far south it flew, it may be at the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Good luck finding wreckage. Anybody who's seen the Antarctica specials on PBS, March of the Penguins, etc., knows what the currents in the Southern Ocean are like. South of both Africa and Australia, with nothing to block their circumnavigation but Cape Horn, southern currents, like the winds, are fierce. Wreckage could be hundreds of miles away from being directly above where the wreck likely went down.

Here's the details:
The aircraft’s last known position, according to the analysis, “is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” (Prime Minister Najib Razak) said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.” 
The new analysis of the flight path, the prime minister said, came from Inmarsat, the British company that provided the satellite data, and from Britain’s air safety agency. The company had “used a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort,” he said. ...
(Chris McLaughlin, a vice president at Inmarsat) said that Inmarsat was confident enough in the new analysis, which it reviewed with Boeing and with a number of independent aviation experts, that it submitted its findings on Sunday to the Malaysians by way of the British safety agency, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
Per the currents part, even before you're out of the Indian Ocean and into the Southern Ocean?
Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales who studies and has conducted experiments on the flow of water around Australia, said currents in the southern Indian ocean could scatter floating debris in very different directions.

“The whole ocean down there is like a pinball machine,” Dr. van Sebille said. “It is difficult to track or predict where water goes, or do what is really important now, which is to backtrack where water came from.”

Dr. van Sebille described the conditions of the southern Indian Ocean as “extremely hostile,” with large waves, swirling currents and winds that are among the strongest on the planet.

“The longer it takes, the harder it will be to backtrack those pieces of debris,” he said.
Yep. And, thus, harder to find ocean-floor wreckage, and the black boxes that could tell us why this happened.

And, on that front:
The United States Pacific Command said on Monday that it would move a Towed Pinger Locator System, capable of locating a black box to a depth of 20,000 feet, into the region. “This movement is simply a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area, so that if debris is found, we will be able to respond as quickly as possible, since the battery life of the black box’s pinger is limited," Cmdr. Chris Budde, a Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in an email statement.
That said, contra Faux News' wingnuts, and somewhat contra Ted Rall, we can probably rule out terrorism but not absolutely. A cockpit hijack attempt, with a struggle between captain and first officer, is possible, but even then, even if we do find the black box, it can tell us only so much. Unless Malaysia is more forthcoming about its search of the home computer and flight simulator of Cpt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, we won't know much on motive, if this indeed is what happened.

And, if Malaysia could have done anything sooner to speed up Inmarsat's work?

That's the "week too late" part. Without various forms of Malaysian obfuscation, we probably could have had Inmarsat get crunching numbers, and spitting out results, sooner than it did, and focusing the wreckage search earlier, before it got scattered from here to hell and back.

Anyway, I'll stand by what I said a week ago; I expect it to take much longer to find floor wreckage from this flight than the Air France flight of 2009.

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