KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — While investigators have doubled efforts in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the chances of a swift recovery and more pertinently, answers to its sudden disappearance midflight, are looking more remote with each passing day.
US officials, who are aiding Malaysia in a multi-nation hunt for the Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people, are pursuing a new lead west to the Indian Ocean, after its satellites picked up electronic pulses that signalled the plane remained airborne hours after it flitted off radar.
If proven true, it could make an already daunting operation even more difficult to conduct and coordinate as the sheer size of the Indian Ocean would increase the search area exponentially.
But the chances of finding the plane intact—seven days after flight MH370 was to hand landed in Beijing—in the world’s third largest water body are looking slim.
The Indian Ocean has an average depth of 13,002 feet (3,963 m) while its deepest point, the Java Trench is believed to be at -23,812 feet (-7,258 m), according to information in the CIA World Factbook.
The Boeing 777 aircraft had enough fuel to fly up to 8.30am on March 8, leaving it with some seven hours of fuel in its tanks when it lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control (ATC).
When it disappeared, the plane was flying 120 nautical miles off Kota Baru in the east coast of Malaysia, between the waters of Malaysia and Vietnam.
The current search operation involving 12 countries and dozens of air and sea vessels are already scouring a watery expanse significantly larger than Malaysia’s total land mass of about 330,000 square kilometres.
As of yesterday, over 80 ships and aircraft have been split into groups to cover some 414,400 square kilometres of sea.
To the east of Peninsula Malaysia, search teams are looking over 107,500 square kilometres centred on the last point of contact the jumbo jet had with the Subang air control tower at around 1.30am on Saturday.
More teams have been deployed to the west of the Malay peninsula to scope an area nearly triple the size of the eastern waters, after the search was expanded, based on an earlier lead that the airliner could have turned back from the point of last contact.
The situation draws parallels with Air France flight 447, which plunged into the Atlantic Ocean not long after departing from the Rio de Janeiro-Galeao International Airport enroute to the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport on June 1, 2009, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew on board.
After three weeks of scouring over more than 1.3 million square kilometres of the Atlantic’s surface, the Brazilian military ended the international search, having recovered 50 bodies and 640 debris identified to have come from the aircraft.
It was two years and four underwater searches later when a team manning autonomous underwater vehicles found substantial remains of the aircraft and more passengers at depths of between 3,800m and 4,000m in the Atlantic on April 3, 2011.
A total of 104 bodies - along with the plane’s black box - were recovered from the deep-sea wreckage, bringing the tally of bodies recovered to 154. The operation was officially closed with 74 bodies still unrecovered.
In the case of flight MH370 possibly having ditched in the Indian Ocean, the Indian and US navies have since despatched vessels to search the area for any sign of the plane, starting with a 35,000 square kilometre area where the Indian Ocean meets the Andaman Sea.
While hope still remains that the passengers on flight MH370 are alive, the odds will only increase against their favour as the days continue to pass.