The news that objects spotted off the Australian coast may be debris from Malaysia Flight 370 has sparked hope that the search for the missing 777 jet may finally be over.
Not so fast.
In an interview with Business Insider, aviation search expert Colleen Keller said that figuring out where the plane went down based on debris found nearly two weeks later would be “very difficult.”
A senior analyst at consulting company Metron, Keller was involved in the search for the wreckage of Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.
Floating debris was found five days later, and three groups that each ran a computer model to guess where it first hit the water came up with three totally different results, Keller said.
“Reverse drift” — tracking objects backward in time using knowledge of wind patters and ocean currents — “is difficult to use from the get-go,” she explained. There are so many variables, it’s hard to produce an accurate result.
Now investigators may face the task of figuring out how far, and where, a floating object traveled over two weeks in the Indian Ocean.
Finding the spot of the crash is key because the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, which could reveal what happened to the plane, would have sunk to the ocean floor in the vicinity.
It doesn’t help that the Indian Ocean is especially difficult to search. The water is deep, and much of it is far from land — far from airports and ports. “The remoteness of it makes it difficult to spend time there, and that’s what you need to do, spend time,” Keller said.
Yet spotting any sign of the plane is a huge improvement over nothing at all. Asked if it’s possible to find underwater wreckage without finding anything on the surface to narrow the search area, Keller said, “I would say there’s zero hope.”
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