Australia: MH370 may have turned south earlier than previously thought
8/28/2014 6:52:17 AM
MH370 vanished with 239
people on board during a flight that was meant to go from Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia, to Beijing. Months of searching have so far turned up no
debris from the plane.
Investigators have relied
on information from radar and satellites to try to plot the Boeing
777's course, concluding that it went down in a remote part of the
southern Indian Ocean, far off Australia's west coast.
After reviewing all the
available data on Flight 370's last movements, international experts are
sticking to the same vast search zone announced in June, Truss said at the news conference Thursday.
But some of the
information the analysts now have suggests that areas a little to the
south may be of "particular interest," he said.
Uncertainty over location of turn
Flight 370 was last
detected by radar flying northwest over the sea between Peninsular
Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
A series of subsequent
communications between satellite systems and the errant plane -- known
as "handshakes" -- determined that at some point MH370 turned south
toward the southern Indian Ocean.
It was initially assumed
that the southern turn took place at the northwestern tip of Sumatra.
But the team of experts has since said there's no conclusive evidence
about where the turn to the south took place.
To calculate the current
search area, they said they took two approaches to the uncertainty
surrounding the turn. They analyzed the satellite data using a range of
assumed locations for the turn, and also without any assumption for
where the turn took place.
The final radar
detection of MH370, by the Malaysian military, occurred nearly an hour
after the plane had veered off its planned course. Three minutes later, a
satellite handshake indicated that the plane was still traveling
The unanswered phone
call took place fourteen minutes after the handshake, according to
information previously released by Australian authorities. Just over an
hour later, a second handshake suggested that plane had turned and was
heading south or southeast.
It's unclear from Truss' comments Thursday how much more clarity the analysts now have on the timing and location of the turn.
The crucial question of why the aircraft flew so far off course also remains unanswered.
The search for the
remains of the plane and the people on board remains focused on a
60,000-square-kilometer area, roughly the size of West Virginia, in the
southern Indian Ocean.
Three ships are expected
to begin an underwater search in the area next month, using a range of
sophisticated sonar equipment. The process is expected to take about 12
months, Truss said.
Officials hope as much
searching as possible can be done in the next few months before weather
conditions are likely to deteriorate, he said.
Ships have already been
mapping the undersea terrain in the isolated swath of ocean to help the
searchers. Much of the geography of the area was previously unknown
before MH370's disappearance drew attention there.
The mapping process has revealed dramatic new challenges for the search teams.
geographic features" discovered by the surveying include at least two
volcanoes and an area where the seafloor drops away from a depth of 600
meters (1,970 feet) to 6,600 meters (21,653 feet) over a short distance,
"It would not be safe to
put the towed sonar equipment into the water if we didn't have this
kind of information about the seabed," he said.
Cost of search to be shared
Truss spoke after meeting with the Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and Chinese Vice Transport Minister He Jianzhong.
Liow said at the news conference that Malaysia's financial contributions to the search will match Australia's commitment.
Australia has estimated a yearlong underwater search will cost $48 million.