Lessons to learn, despite another report on missing flight MH370 and still no explanation


Geoffrey Dell, CQUniversity Australia

The latest report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 says that investigations have failed to find any explanation as to why the aircraft went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The 449-page main report (with additional appendices) from the Malaysian government builds on previous reports on the investigation into the missing aircraft but admits it is “limited by a significant lack of evidence”.


Read the report: MH370 Safety Investigation Report – Ministry of Transport Malaysia


It’s been four years since the Boeing 777-200ER went missing from its routine flight between Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and China’s capital Beijing.

The aircraft was later found to have deviated from that flight path, with calculations showing that it probably disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean, off the Western Australian coast.

But despite an extensive search led by Australia, and later a private operator search, the report says no main wreckage or bodies of the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board have ever been found.

Some parts identified as confirmed or almost certain to have been from the missing aircraft have been recovered, washed up around the Indian Ocean.

Confirmed and almost certain debris identification wreckage from MH370.
Ministry of Transport Malaysia

The aircraft itself has not been located, and neither the aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) nor the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) has been recovered. The only information available to the investigators was from other sources, making triangulation and validation of evidence difficult, if not impossible.




Read more:
The search for MH370 is over: what we learnt and where to now


Who’s to blame?

The report notes that MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, soon after a routine handover from the Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control. Communications with the aircraft were lost less than 40 minutes after takeoff.

Both Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers delayed initiation of emergency procedures once communication could not be established with the aircraft following the crossover from one air space to another. This, the report says, delayed any search-and-rescue response.

Given that the initial search area was north of the Malaysian Peninsula on the aircraft’s intended track, and any information suggesting the aircraft might have flown back over the peninsula didn’t emerge for some time, the initial delays in initiating the search-and-rescue phase may be moot.

The report covers several other issues related to the flight, aircraft maintenance, the crew, the cargo etc, but its conclusion ends with the line:

…the (Investigation) Team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.

Still a mystery

Clearly, someone or something was responsible for the loss of the aircraft, passengers and crew. But without evidence from the flight recorders it’s unlikely that any of the many theories as to the cause will be proven.

The report suggests that from the available information and simulations, the aircraft was manually turned off the planned track, suggesting an intent on behalf of whoever was flying the aircraft. The turning off of the transponders that allow the aircraft to be tracked by civilian radars also suggests intent.

Hence the report goes to some lengths to suggest that unlawful interference with flight MH370 cannot be ruled out.

But extensive background checks of the captain and other crew found absolutely no evidence of anything other than a dedicated, professional team who set off to do their job as they had done many many times before.

So the causes of the tragedy are likely to remain conjecture for some considerable time, unless new evidence comes to light.

No closure for the families

Clearly the families of those who perished onboard MH370 will not gain much closure from this report. It contains very few answers for them.

But it needs to be said that the air safety investigators need data from multiple sources to try to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty the causes of crashes.

Aviation is a very complex socio-technical system that requires reliable analytics to fully understand the system interactions and deviations. Yet without the recorded flight data and no access to the wreckage, the ability to find cause is critically hampered.

Lessons learned (and to learn)

Since the loss of MH370 there has been a global push to improve tracking of airline aircraft. Clearly the travelling public want air traffic control authorities to know where all the aircraft are all of the time, without fail and without the capacity for anyone to turn the tracking system off.

Many in aviation would like that ideal world too. But the current tracking systems don’t have that capacity. The amount of data that would entail is well beyond the capacity of the present systems, and the cost of upgrading the systems to cope with that would be exorbitant.

For example, the current satellite constellation would need to be expanded or significantly enhanced. So, there has to be a compromise.

As the report suggests, it’s likely that improvements to the system will result in airborne aircraft “handshaking” with the tracking system every 15 minutes with GPS position, altitude, heading and speed data.

This should significantly improve the probability of finding an aircraft lost, but it will not guarantee a lost aircraft’s location will be known.

For example, if the aircraft is cruising at 350 knots (about 650kph) when it makes its last handshake with the tracking system, in 15 minutes it could be anywhere in a search area with around a 300km diameter, still representing a significant search conundrum.

Changes in emergency locator beacon capability are also arising from the MH370 experience. The problems with underwater signal acoustics will remain problematic. So design changes in future will likely see beacons that have the capability to detach and float to the surface if an aircraft crashes into water.

From the perspective of the families and from the basis of needing to understand the real lessons from MH370, ideally the search for the aircraft should continue.

The ConversationBut the real challenge is where to look. Without new data to inform a new search effort, the only thing really known is the aircraft is most likely in the Indian Ocean somewhere. That’s the message from the wreckage that has washed ashore.

Geoffrey Dell, Associate Professor/Discipline Leader Accident Investigation and Forensics, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Evidence mounts for a search further north for missing flight MH370


Charitha Pattiaratchi, University of Western Australia and Sarath Wijeratne, University of Western Australia

It is now more than three years since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared, and there is growing evidence that the search authorities have been looking for the aircraft in the wrong place. The Conversation

The disappearance, on March 8, 2014, is considered as one of the biggest mysteries in aviation and the search of the seabed for the wreckage, costing A$200 million to date, is also the most expensive.

An underwater search of a 120,000 square kilometre area of the Indian Ocean, off Western Australia, has so far failed to find any evidence of the crash site.

The search was suspended in January this year until any “credible new information” should emerge that could be used to identify the specific location of the aircraft.

Initial search data

Initial evidence on the aircraft flight path was through satellite data (SatCom) from Inmarsat. This indicated that the plane most likely ended up in the southeast Indian Ocean along an arc – the 7th arc – that was the basis for defining the search areas by the Australian Air Transport Safety Board (ATSB).

Location of the 7th Arc and the completed search area.
ATSB

Considering several end-of-flight scenarios, the ATSB defined the original search area of 120,000 square kilometres as being 40km either side of the SatCom 7th arc along a distance of 700km between latitudes 39.3°S and 36°S.

This search area was defined before any debris had been found in the eastern Indian Ocean, and was based only on the SatCom data. No oceanographic evidence was available at the time the search area was defined.

The ATSB initially announced that the first possible landfall of debris would be on the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in the first weeks of July 2015. Subsequent to the finding of debris in the eastern Indian Ocean it was found that the oceanographic advice provided to the ATSB (not by the CSIRO) was incorrect.

Debris emerges

On July 29, 2015, more than 16 months after the flight disappeared, a wing section called a flaperon washed up on Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean. This has been confirmed as originating from the MH370 aircraft.

More aircraft debris has been found in the western Indian Ocean: in Mauritius, Tanzania, Rodrigues, Mauritius again, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa.

The ATSB undertook a first principles review in November 2016 and based on additional information, particularly from oceanographic drift modelling, concluded that the 120,000 square kilometre search area was unlikely to contain the missing aircraft.

The ATSB also reported that oceanographic debris modelling undertaken by the CSIRO provided strong evidence that the aircraft was most likely to be located to the north of the search area between latitudes 32.5°S and 36°S along the 7th arc within an area of 25,000 square kilometres close to 35°S.

CSIRO released an updated report on April 21 this year with more refined modelling of the flaperon, based on field tests using an actual Boeing 777 flaperon.

This confirmed the conclusion of the first principles review that the crash site is most likely at the southern end of the 25,000 square kilometre region near 35°S. CSIRO defines the error to be within 100km, which is 1° of latitude.

More evidence

Many independent oceanographic studies using different oceanographic (for current fields) and debris transport models have reached similar conclusions with respect to the location of the crash site.

They have all concluded that the crash site is not in the initial 120,000 square kilometre search area, but further north. A European study placed the crash site between 28°S and 35°S, and our study puts it between 28°S and 33°S.

Since the flaperon was discovered on Reunion Island, more pieces of debris have been found – many confirmed to be from MH370 and others to be from a Boeing 777, the aircraft design used for the flight.

The locations of these debris finds are consistent with oceanographic drift modelling. These predictions guided the discovery of many pieces of debris by US lawyer and amateur investigator Blaine Gibson and next-of-kin in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Of the 22 pieces of debris found the location of 18 were predicted by our UWA model. Those not predicted were in Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands which may not be well represented in the oceanographic model. The debris origin for this was at 96.5°E and 32.5°S along the 7th arc.

Thus based on the results of several independent oceanographic drift modelling studies that have used different oceanographic models to predict the current fields and including different debris transport modules, all have come to a similar conclusion to that of the ATSB’s first-principles review: the crash site is along the 7th arc 32.5°S and 36°S within an area of 25,000 square kilometres.

This area is immediately to the north of the 120,000 square kilometre region that has already been searched.

From an oceanographic viewpoint this is the best “credible new information” the search authorities have asked for that could be provided on the location of the MH370 crash site.

As oceanographers we have been using drift modelling for variety of applications for more than two decades and have high confidence in the results.

Charitha Pattiaratchi, Professor of Coastal Oceanography, University of Western Australia and Sarath Wijeratne, Research Assistant Professor, UWA Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

An Expert Says Our Search Strategy Will Need Overhauling If the Réunion Debris Is From MH370


TIME

On Friday, a group of French officials boarded a 12-hour flight to Paris from Réunion, a volcanic island and French territory in the southwest Indian Ocean. With them was a 9-ft.-by-3-ft. piece of flotsam many believe is a wing-flap from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

It was the unremarkable final stretch on what may turn out to be the wing-flap’s remarkable journey—if indeed it is a wing-flap, and if it turns out to have actually come from MH370. Sources in Boeing have told CNN they are ”confident” the flotsam was part of a Boeing 777, and experts have little doubt the part came from the doomed jetliner. That would mean this debris could have been drifting on ocean currents for more than 500 days for some 2,500 miles, or the equivalent to driving…

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Flight 370 Report Shows Underwater Beacon Battery Had Expired


TIME

The first comprehensive report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 showed that the jet’s underwater locator beacon’s battery had expired — but offered few other clues on the one-year anniversary of the plane’s disappearance.

Malaysia’s prime minister said Sunday that the country remains committed to finding MH370, which disappeared with 239 people aboard.

“The lack of answers and definitive proof — such as aircraft wreckage — has made this more difficult to bear,” Najib Razak. “Malaysia remains committed to the search, and hopeful that MH370 will be found.”

The Malaysian team investigating the disappearance of MH370 released a 584-page interim report …

Read more from our partners at NBC News

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