The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has so far come up short.
Australian officials announced earlier this week that it analysed satellite imagery appearing to show objects in the Indian Ocean that could have been debris from the missing plane, but search aircraft and ships haven’t found anything yet. Australia’s deputy prime minister said Friday the suspected debris might have sunk.
But search teams are still powering forward with the daunting task of searching a vast, remote body of water that has an average depth of 12,990 feet, or about two and a half miles. Weather is also an issue — the ocean waters are rough and the skies above are cloudy, making it difficult to see any debris that might be floating in the water.
The search will be a complex operation.
Reuters published this graphic outlining the search patterns of aircraft and ships and explaining how investigators define a wreckage area:
Capt. Timothy Taylor, and ocean search expert and president of Tiburon Subsea Services, spoke to CNN about how the search will move forward now that possible debris has been identified.
“If this is debris from the plane, you have to track it back,” he said. “They will deploy buoys … current monitors, they basically jump in the water and they drift and they give you position reports and if you can plot those over time, [you can figure out] which way everything is drifting.”
Since the ocean current can get rough and carry objects hundreds of miles away from where they originally fell into the water, finding floating debris doesn’t necessarily mean finding the crash site.
But, with enough current monitors in the water, investigators might be able to track any debris back to where the wreckage is.
Once searchers have a better idea of where the plane crashed, they will start looking for a debris field at the bottom of the ocean.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bobbie Scholley explained that autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, can operate in depths up to 20,000 feet to search for debris. Then, searchers will map out a debris field and send unmanned remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROVs, to search for the black box.
Black boxes on planes are equipped with “beacons” that transmit signals — but the battery only lasts about 30 days. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been missing for two weeks already, so if search teams don’t recover any wreckage by then, finding the plane will become even more difficult.
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