MH370 hunt ‘much, much harder’, Air France investigators say

A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft takes off to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, from RAAF Base Pearce north of Perth March 21, 2014. — Reuters pic
A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft takes off to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, from RAAF Base Pearce north of Perth March 21, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — French investigators who spent nearly two years trawling the Atlantic to find a missing Air France plane have stressed that search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is a “much, much harder” expedition.

With Australian satellite imagery raising hopes that the plane now missing for nearly two weeks might soon be found, Alain Bouillard who led investigations into the 2009 crash of Air France flight AF447 warned that even if the debris proved to be from the MAS plane, finding the rest of the wreckage remains a “colossal task”.

“This disappearance is still a great mystery, and will lead to an inquiry and a search that is far, far harder that what we had looking for Air France 447,”Bouillard told UK daily The Telegraph.

Bouillard pointed out that in the case of AF447, investigators knew from data transmissions approximately where the plane crashed but it was not until May 2011 — nearly two years after the plane disappeared on June 2009 — that the main hull and the crucial data recorders were discovered.

In the case of MH370, the time elapsed between the plane disappearing on March 8 and any debris discovery in the ocean meant investigators will only have a tenuous link between where any such items are found and where the plane crashed.

One Indian naval officer previously estimated that the currents in the Indian Ocean could be as high as 15 nautical miles an hour, raising the possibility that debris may have travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles from the point of impact.

Bouillard also noted that debris discovery was only the start of the process of locating the plane, which could vary wildly depending on the circumstance of its crash.

“After you have identified and examined some debris, you can piece together how the plane broke up. Was it in the air, was it during a sea landing, or did it hit the ocean surface? From that you can build up a scenario,” he said in the report.

Bouillard and his team spent countless days using high-tech equipment submersible drones capable of mapping large surface areas of the seabed, a deep towed sonar, two remote-controlled vehicles and three autonomous underwater vehicles to hunt for AF447.

But none bore fruit. Instead, it took a pain-staking and arduously slow search of the Atlantic, quadrant by quadrant, to finally find the plane.

The similarities between the disappearance of AF447 and MH370 has led Malaysia to pin its hopes on the experience of the French team to helped find the MAS plane, and to guide the country through the crisis.

Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has increasingly mentioned the French investigators who are here to help in the search and rescue operations.

“The next step would be to find the black box... That is where the French team will be very important. Sonar technology and other assets will be used. But we will address that when we need to,” he told reporters during the daily press conference on MH370 yesterday.

He also cited their experience in guiding Malaysia to deal with the “raw emotion” of families in this “very difficult time”.

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