KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — Search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is now narrowed to the south of the Indian Ocean, but oceanographer Fabian Cousteau said finding the missing plane could still take years.
According to the grandson of legendary deep-sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, the complexity lies in the fact that while searchers now know that the Boeing 777-200ER is in the Indian Ocean, they have no actual information about where in the vast body of water the plane might be.
Yesterday, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that further analysis of satellite data showed that the missing plane was “somewhere in the Indian Ocean”.
“This part of the Indian Ocean is almost untouched by mapping and exploration and one of the most hostile areas for sailors or even pilots flying overhead,” Cousteau was quoted as saying in the report.
Just trying to find debris to provide a general indication of the plane’s possible location has proven frustrating.
Since Thursday, Australia has sent sortie after sortie to the site where it said satellite imagery showed debris possibly related to MH370, but none has led searchers closer to finding the plane beyond the occasional reports of further sightings.
Even the US Navy’s P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, considered the most advanced search plane in the world, came up empty.
The disappearance of MH370 without any distress sent has led to parallels being drawn to another flight that disappeared in silence five years ago.
“The big difference between Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and Air France Flight 447 was that we knew approximately where it was. In this case, we have absolutely no clue. We’re going on hunches,” Cousteau told financial news site MartketWatch.
AF447 crashed during its flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to France in June 2009 and the main part of its wreckage and the bodies of the passengers on board were not discovered until nearly two years later, in May 2011.
The French investigative team that probed the Air France disaster is assisting in the search for MH370 and has expressed similar concerns over the time it could take to locate the Malaysian plane.
Despite the obstacles he painted, Cousteau believed that the mission to find MH370 was not impossible, but added that the challenge grows with each unsuccessful day.
“With enough time and perseverance and technology, we’re capable of finding any man-made objects. It may take months. It may take years to find it. It’s like any cold case. The longer you wait, the harder it is to find what you are looking for,” he said.
The US yesterday sent its Bluefin-21 unmanned submersible and “Towed Pinger Locator”, the so-called “black box” finder, to the search area in preparation to look for the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from MH370 that now have less than two weeks’ of power reserves remaining to transmit their locations.
The head of Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, “made a very prudent and wise decision to move the equipment that could be useful should a debris field be found or should we think we can get close to where the black box may be,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.
But their deployment is dependent on the confirmation that the plane wreck is in the general vicinity; without debris to tell searchers where to begin looking, all the technology available will not be able to find MH370.
Cousteau also pointed out that an indefinite and extensive search could rack up a substantial bill.
“It depends on the length of the operation and amount of equipment required. It could be in the tens of millions — or even hundreds of millions.”
MH370 and the 239 people on board disappeared less than an hour after the Beijing-bound flight left Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41am on March 8. The plane and its passengers remain missing despite over two weeks of intensive searching by a multinational effort.