Asia-Pacific

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Flight MH370: What happens now in hunt for missing plane

Published 25/03/2014|02:30

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Time is running out to find the crucial keys that could solve the mystery of how and why Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down.

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Searchers are racing to locate the black boxes before a battery-powered ping they emit fades away.

Now that some debris has possibly been found, here's what comes next:

NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK

The location of the plane is still unknown, although Malaysian authorities say a British satellite company has pinpointed its last position in the Indian Ocean, where several countries have reported finding floating debris. It's now up to experts in ocean currents and weather patterns to give searchers their best estimate on where the plane actually went down, which is where the black boxes are likely to be located.

"It's a race to get to the area in time to catch the black box pinger while it's still working," said John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board.

THE PINGER LOCATOR

To "catch" the signal, searchers will be using a high-tech listening device loaned by the US Navy. The Towed Pinger Locator is a 30-inch microphone that's slowly towed underwater in a grid pattern behind a ship. It will pick up any black box ping from one mile away, but could hear a ping from two miles away depending upon a number of factors, from ocean conditions to topography.

The device is attached to 20,000 feet of cable and sends up data every half second. The ship keeps towing it over the grid so that operators can triangulate the strongest pings and hopefully locate the black boxes' exact location.

An Australian navy support vessel is also expected to arrive within three or four days. It's equipped with acoustic detection equipment that will also listen for pings.

IF THE PINGS AREN'T HEARD

If no strong signals are located before the battery in the black boxes fades away, searchers must move on to devices called side-scan sonar that create an X-ray of the ocean floor, allowing experts to look for any abnormalities in the seabed or any shape that wouldn't normally be associated with the area. This is how searchers found the wreckage of Air France Flight 447, which went down in 2009 in the Atlantic between Brazil's northeast coast and western Africa.

Irish Independent

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