MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER, took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 with 239 people (227 passengers as 12 crew) on board. The plane was bound for Beijing, but it never completed the trip. For unknown reasons, the plane stopped talking to Air Traffic Control over the South China Sea. It veered off course and disappeared from radar over the Indian Ocean. Almost four years later, nobody knows what happened to it, and the plane has not been found.
Now, Ocean Infinity, a US company, is in talks with the Malaysian government to restart the search for MH370. If the company gets a contract to search, Ocean Infinity will send a fleet of eight autonomous submarine drones called HUGINs (encased in titanium for protection) to the deep ocean in order to find MH370…or at least what’s left of it. HIGUNs are reportedly more efficient than a traditional search (Ocean Infinity says that it can scan 890 square kilometers per day with only six devices), and having multiple machines working on different areas will make the search even more efficient.
“I am going to make an announcement next week after we finalize the contract with [Ocean Infinity],” Liow Tiong Lai, the Malaysian Transport Minister, told reporters.
“[Ocean Infinity knows that] we are very serious in taking their offer,” said Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi.
Despite a failed three-year search attempt, the Australian Transport Safety Board released a report late last year that identified a new search area where the aircraft could possibly be found.
While it waits for a contract, Ocean Infinity has sent a ship called Seabed Constructor from Durban, South Africa to the search area equipped with the HUGINs. The company will undertake a “no-find, no-fee basis”.
“This is designed to save time should the contract award be forthcoming, as hoped,” the company said. “We will confirm as and when the contract is awarded and the search can resume.”
Each HUGIN is 5 meters (about 18 feet) long and weighs 1800 kilograms (about 3968 pounds). Each submarine can dive as low as 6,000 meters, which is 3.7 miles. The machines have a battery pack that weighs 300 kg, or 661 lbs; it can power the drone for up to 60 hours.
The submarines have sonar sensors that send out signals and measure the strength of the signal that bounces back; since sand reflects the signal differently than metal, debris from MH370 will be easily distinguished from other material. Once the submarines finish a search and return to their base ship, the data that they collected is downloaded and used make a map that researchers can analyze. This will allow the researchers to label areas of interest from “E” to “A”, which translates from “nothing is here” to “this might be the plane”.
Ocean Infinity says that, though finding wreckage would be a success, their ultimate goal is to find at least one the plane’s two black boxes, which include the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder. This would help investigators to shine more light on what actually happened to the plane.
Yet some people aren’t convinced that the new search will turn up results. Australian Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said last week that the decision to renew the search came solely from Malaysia.
“I can understand how Malaysians are incredibly driven by finding the wreckage,” said Joyce, who became transport minister two weeks ago. “I have, to be quite frank, some concerns as to whether it will be found.”
This isn’t the first time that a major search has been conducted to find the missing airplane. Governments from China, Australia, and Malaysia funded a search by the Dutch firm Furgo, who spent close to three years searching for the plane in what would become the largest search in aviation history. That search was suspended in January of 2017 after Furgo failed to find any sign of wreckage.
There have been leads, however, that haven’t yet turned up results. Investigators believe that MH370 flew south over the Indian Ocean for six hours before crashing into the ocean. Pieces of an airplane believed to be MH370 turned up on Africa’s eastern seaboard last year.
Featured image from Swire