Seismic event on seabed could point to missing plane, say Chinese scientists

A military personnel looks out of a helicopter during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam's Tho Chu island March 10, 2014. — Reuters pic
A military personnel looks out of a helicopter during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam's Tho Chu island March 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — A team of Chinese scientists picked up signals of a “seismic event” on the seafloor between Vietnam and Malaysia on March 8, which they claimed were consistent with a plane crash and could possibly be related to the missing MH370 aircraft.

Researchers with the University of Science and Technology of China, one of the country’s top schools, said today that they detected the tremor on March 8, the same day the Boeing 777-20ER carrying 239 people dropped from civilian radar 120 nautical miles off Kota Baru on Malaysia’s east coast.

An online statement posted on the university’s website said the signal came from two seismic monitor stations in Malaysia, which indicated that a slight tremor had occurred on the seafloor at about 2.55am on March 8, some 150 kilometres off the southern tip of Vietnam.

“It was a non-seismic zone, therefore judging from the time and location of the event, it might be related to the missing MH370 flight,” South China Morning Post quoted the statement as saying.

The tremor took place about 85 minutes after MH370 lost contact with air control, and about 116km northeast of the spot where it was reportedly last heard from. 

“If it was indeed an airplane crashing into the sea, the seismic wave strength indicated that the crash process was catastrophic,” the statement added.

If verified, the revelation will likely add confusion to the vast ongoing search and rescue operations now expanded to include the Indian Ocean, following tips from US navy officials that the plane may have altered its course and stayed airborne for several hours.

The latest revelation was based on an analysis of signals sent through the plane’s satellite communication (SATCOM) link.

The Indian Ocean has an average depth of 13,002 feet (3,963 metres) while its deepest point, the Java Trench is believed to be at -23,812 feet (-7,258 metres), 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).

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.