Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Will They Find?

After a month of looking for the lost Malaysia 777 with no luck, it appears as if the surface search is coming to an end. There are simply no clues on the surface of the ocean that can be traced to the missing airliner. Efforts now, after having possibly hearing the last calls from the submerged beacon will focus on an underwater search using autonomous submersibles.

 These amazing machines have the ability to search the ocean floor thousands of feet beneath the surface for any clues. The problem is they are painstakingly slow having an underwater speed of only several miles per hour. It may take years of searching to find anything. The missing Air France recovery took several years of search and that was after finding floating debris from the crash.

 The question then arises that should the wreckage of MH370 be found, what clues will it give up as to the cause of its disappearance?

There are two "black boxes" that will need to be recovered to obtain the most complete picture of the fated airliner's last flight. The digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) will both need to be found to have all the information available.

The flight data recorder will reveal most of the details regarding the state of the aircraft itself. For instance, there has been some speculation that the aircraft was tracked at an altitude of 45,000 feet by a military radar. The DFDR will confirm if this happened. If someone flying the aircraft intended to incapacitate the cabin occupants through oxygen deprivation, this theory might be confirmed.

The DFDR will also detail the last moments of the flight and whether it hit the water abruptly or was eased down so as to keep the aircraft in one piece. Had someone intended a soft touchdown to minimize flotsam and debris, that would have been the way to do it.

I believe that the cockpit voice recorder may be of less value. Assuming that the hijacking was carried out by one person, we might expect the last two hours of the CVR to be silent as the flight ventured further south over the ocean. Should conversation be heard, that would mean a team of hijackers in collusion. The act of silently flying the plane hours away from land indicates, though, that the hijackers had no "message" of grievance they wanted to share either.

Most voice recorders are supposed to capture the last two hours of sound in the cockpit and then to overwrite the data. At least that's what we're told. Depending on which conspiracy theories about spook-craft you believe, overwritten data my also be able to be obtained through advanced electronic analysis. Still, it seems unlikely that much useful data on the recorder might be found.

Lastly would be evidence found on the aircraft itself, namely who might be found in the cockpit. If only one pilot is found there, then it will be known that that person incapacitated the other pilot. If both are found there, determining the cause of death will be important, and we add likely impossible. If one pilot had hit the other on the head, only a detailed examination might determine that.

All these details will depend upon the condition of the aircraft should it ever be found. The depths at which the aircraft may lie are at the very limits of salvage equipment. The Bluefin vehicles have no mechanical arms to manipulate any wreckage they may find so that will have to be accomplished by other underwater vehicles.

Questions of how long the various governments are willing to take to find the missing plane also need to be asked. The Chinese will likely finance the continuing search effort for some time as they have the resources but if nothing is found in say two years or more, when will the effort be abandoned?

Malaysia 370 has a secret and is apparently still unwilling to give it up.

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Capt Rob