Outspoken critics of the official search for MH370 still think the aircraft’s undersea debris field will “eventually” be found. But it likely won’t happen until long after the Australian-led search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 ends sometime this June.
Even so, Australian search officials hope that recent Bayesian probability calculations used to narrow the Seventh Arc search area will finally lead to the 777. After all, it’s been nearly two years since MH370 went missing with 239 onboard, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“They have narrowed the search area based on too many assumptions relating to include such factors as control of the plane, fuel consumption, altitude, and wind,” retired U.S. Navy Capt. Art Wright of Williamson and Associates, a Seattle-based firm with expertise in finding high-value deep water targets, told me. “Bayesian modeling is great but in a search with this many unknowns, the search area should be significantly larger and the search tools based on a wide-swath approach.”
The most recent undersea search for the aircraft’s actual crash point has been largely focused on some 17,500 square nautical miles of area around a line that extends south south-west into the southern Indian Ocean.
But Williamson and Associates contends that the undersea search phase for MH370 has been so badly mishandled by the Australians that it’s put a black eye on the deep sea search and recovery industry as a whole.
“Our contention is that to date, they cannot say with high confidence that the entire area has been searched,” Mike Williamson, President of Williamson and Associates, told me.
Based on the few records the Australian searchers have released, Wright claims that there are significant search gaps. “The [Australians] selected a sidescan sonar with a maximum range of about 900 meters to a side,” said Wright. “If they had selected a sonar with a 3000-meter range to a side they would be able to get more coverage.”
And as an industry source familiar with the day to day details of the search who spoke on condition of anonymity told me: “They are using an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) in areas of deep valleys as they have been unable to tow [sidescan sonars] low enough for good bottom resolution.”
Even without such challenges, as Williamson explains, the outer range of a sonar is generally not very accurate. So, he says, it always makes sense to tighten up line spacings between sonar search tracks in order to actually create an overlap in the data. This way, he says, there are two different looks at every target, so if there is any error in navigation and the track lines aren’t perfectly aligned, there is still enough redundancy to avoid geographical gaps in any seafloor search.
When we pointed this out to the Australians, we were dismissed as sour grapes because we didn’t get the MH370 search contract, says Williamson. The Australian government is well aware of Williams and Associates claims, however, and offered the following response.
“The vessels and equipment being utilized in the search are operating in accordance with industry standards,” a Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) spokesperson, the Australian Agency overseeing the search, told me. “The data is assessed by expert geophysicists and sonar data specialists on board the [search] vessel and we are very satisfied with the quality and outcomes of the work.”
Even so, Wright complains that the Australians have not been forthcoming about releasing day to day search data and also contends there are promising targets that deserve further exploration — those that can’t be easily dismissed as mere seafloor geology.
However, the JACC spokesperson says that the data will be released when the search is completed and notes that “clearing imagery for release and preparing accompanying explanations is time-consuming and not a focus for the search team, whose priority is undertaking search operations.”
Although some friends and families of MH370 passengers continue to believe that the aircraft never made it so far south into the Indian Ocean, Williamson is convinced that its debris will eventually be found.
Inadvertently, somebody’s going to come across this thing someday, says Williamson , whether through ocean mining or some other seabed exploration.
“It might be in thirty years, but if it’s down there, it will [likely] show up,” said Williamson.
This article was written by Bruce Dorminey from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.