Why finding missing Malaysian Airline plane may be nearly impossible
Published Tuesday, March 25, 2014 6:38PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 26, 2014 4:45PM EDT
As search crews race to where officials believe wreckage from the missing Malaysia plane may be, it’s becoming increasingly clear how difficult it will be to find any debris or the black box.
“It’s not one of my favourite places to work, it’s my least favourite,” says Wes Hill, a Senior Captain at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego, to Kevin Newman Live. He has spent time in the southern Indian Ocean doing water sampling, climate studies and ocean floor surveys. He was there a few years ago for a 50 day trip. “I remember it being rough seas for 48 of the 50 days.”
Skip ahead to the 19-minute mark of the video above to see our full interview with Hill.
Hill says and now it’s becoming fall so the weather is going to get worse. Having eight-metre waves are not rare for that area. It’s also one of the few places where water or debris can circulate around the world without hitting land ever.
“The weather is generally overcast so that will make searching more difficult and it’s a very large body of water,” says Hill. “I can’t emphasize enough how open it is.”
There is another major issue that will impede the search effort. The average depth is more than four kilometres, but it isn’t like searching the bottom of a pool. Hill compares it to flying four kilometres over the Rocky Mountains and looking for a tiny box, which may have fallen in a canyon. Where the plane may have crashed is on the Indian Ocean ridge, which is basically a mountain range. There is also no visibility at the bottom of the ocean, so searchers are forced to rely solely on sonar.
These unsourced videos give you a sense of what it’s like on the southern Indian Ocean.
After two years of searching, crews were able to find wreckage and the black box from Air France flight that was lost over the Atlantic in 2009. But this is much different.
“We knew where Air France left the air and hit the water and it took two years,” says Brad de Young, a professor of oceanography at Memorial University to Kevin Newman Live. “Even when you find a bit of the wreckage it will have been three weeks.”
Anyone who has ever taken a sailing or boating class and tried a man-overboard drill knows how difficult it is to find the person if you lose sight of him or her for just a second.
This area has some of the strongest currents on the planet. Objects that are different sizes and weights will drift at different speeds meaning the search area may be 1,000 kilometres in diametre.
The search area is also 2-3,000 kilometres for the nearest port so it takes days for crews to get there. De Young is worried about what may happen in a month or so if they don’t find anything. He says it costs about $1 million for one search ship and that’s not an expensive Navy ship. Hill says with one ship they may get lucky, but wonders how much money governments will be willing to spend to find this plane. “Even when we know where something is, it can take a long time to find.”
Hills says finding the black box is going to take some educated guesses and a lot of good luck. “It’s a daunting body of water.”