New MH370 search areas to be mapped with drift modelling

By on 14 September, 2016
mh370 simulations

Simulations reveal suspected origins of the Boeing flaperon. Image: GEOMAR, September 2015


The search for missing flight MH370 in the so-called 7th Arc in the Southern Indian Ocean will be completed by the end of 2016 and the authorities involved are already looking to establish new search areas further afield.

While the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 and its 239 passengers are still yet to be found after two and a half years of searching, the authorities are turning to the suggestions of drift modelling based on the debris found to date.

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In September 2015, drift simulations by German oceanographers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel suggested that the crash site was different from that currently being searched (see header image). Then in early 2016, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau who are managing the search, revealed that investigators were planning a second phase of the search based on revised drift modelling using replica flaperons in the southern Indian Ocean. They hoped that this modelling would provide evidence needed to continue the search beyond the current priority zone.


The 7th Arc in the southern Indian Ocean is the current search area, now under question.


Since then, however, more pieces of debris have been discovered throughout the western Indian Ocean, including “scorched” parts in Madagascar and Mozambique found in recent weeks. This presents a “join-the-dots” scenario that has families of lost passengers calling for inquiries into the current search and for new search areas to be established.

Evidence that ATSB’s alternate plans are already underway came last week when ATSB issued a call for tender entitled “Provision of a Drift Modelling and Search and Rescue System.” In the tender, MH370 is not specifically mentioned. It does, however, call for support in prosecuting and managing search and rescue incidents with drift modelling for partner countries Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Mauritius- all nations surrounding the areas highlighted in the German modelling.

While it has not been confirmed that the tender is for MH370, due to the location and methods requested it is highly likely to be the case. If this is true, it suggests either doubt in the methods used to identify the crash site in the South Pacific or simply a move to leave ‘no stone unturned’ for the families of the missing passengers. In either case, for many it will appear as a last ditch effort using chaotic, probabilistic modelling methods that will likely be inadequate at identifying a search area small enough for any practical search operations.

Most people—including the families of those lost—hope only that one of the methods prove fruitful. It remains to be seen which, if any, will be successful at locating the missing aircraft and discovering the fate of its 239 lost passengers and crew. It may just be found in the final stages of scanning in the so-called 7th Arc over the coming few months.


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