All of a sudden Friday, March 28, the search for the Malaysian airliner still missing after three weeks, switched to a new site, 1,120 kilometers north of a part of the Indian Ocean where the day before 300 objects were hailed as “the most credible items yet.” The explanation for this sudden shift to a new area was that the Boeing 777 was traveling faster than previously estimated, had used up more fuel and had therefore flown a shorter distance into the Indian Ocean. The new information based on the analysis of radar data placed the new “credible search area” between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.
So what about the “credible items” found earlier? All the various experts including radar specialists would say was that the new area was more convenient for the search. They regretted the waste of time and resources expended in shifts every few days from place to place.
After the plane went missing on March 8, satellites, planes and ships focused first on the Bay of Thailand, and then the Andaman Sea near India, before looping round to Central Asia and settling briefly on Kazakhstan. They then hared off to a broad patch of Indian Ocean between Australia and Antarctica.
Now they have moved north to a new search area of approximately 319,000 sq. km. which Australia’s investigation agency determines is “the most credible lead to where debris may be located.”
What keeps on driving the search in so many directions?
1. The searchers are groping in the dark. They have still not turned up a single piece of information or material evidence as leads to the location of the Malaysian flight or the cause of its disappearance. Their only guides are speculation about which way the currents in any presumed crash site may have caused the wreckage to drift.
2. Last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in an attempt to bring this tragic episode to some conclusion, cited data provided by the British Inmarsat’s new technology as evidence that the plane had ended its flight in the Indian Ocean and all 239 aboard were lost.
Radar experts explained that Immarsat picked up “pings” from the time-synchronization system aboard the vessel 2,000 miles in the sea distant from Perth after tracking its whereabouts for 7 hours after it disappeared.
Five days after this dramatic discovery, the searchers and the Malaysian authorities appear to have forgotten all about it and are chasing a new theory, that the plane traveled faster and its route was shorter than first estimated.
3. The governments involved in the search, the US, China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are using their resources not just to locate the missing Boeing, but for purposes of their own: a) Trials of their innovative intelligence and military technology; b) Checking out the satellite and electronic cyber resources of fellow-agencies engaged in the hunt and c) Discovering the outer limits of their colleagues’ intelligence capabilities and range in one of the most forbidding places on earth.
The lessons these powers are drawing from their own and their rivals’ performance are providing them with a study text on their comparative strengths and weaknesses in the event of potential sea, air or cyber conflicts.
It is worth noting in this regard that neither Russia nor France has volunteered to help Malaysia in the search. France’s contribution would be especially valuable in the light of its experience in the search for the Air France flight which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Neither was prepared to expose its satellite and intelligence resources to the competition.
The fourth week is likely to focus on scouring the sea bed for the black box of MH370. But if nothing substantial crops up yet again, the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner will have to go down as one of the unsolved mysteries of modern aviation.
The only chance of cracking it lies in all the governments taking part in the search setting aside their rivalries, pushing their experts and agents into one room and ordering them to come clean and piece together all the data they have collected. Perhaps then a true picture will finally emerge. But that is not about to happen.