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In March 2014, a Boeing 777 designated Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing after taking off in Kuala Lumpur. It was due to land in Beijing, China, but never made it.
Now, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) — one of three parties leading the search — has today issued its final report on the tragedy.
The report didn’t speculate on what could’ve happened to the plane, but did shed light on the details of the search for the aircraft.
Alongside the Malaysian and Chinese governments, the ATSB covered an area of 710 000 square kilometres beneath the sea, and a further 120 000 square kilometres using high-resolution sonar. Both surveys were the largest of their kind ever undertaken.
“The mapping of the seafloor in the search area revealed a challenging terrain for the underwater search which used underwater vehicles operating close to the seafloor. While the deep tow vehicles selected as the primary search method proved to be very effective, the seafloor terrain necessitated the use of a range of search methods including an autonomous underwater vehicle to complete the sonar coverage,” the ATSB explains.
It also suggested that weather conditions across the Indian Ocean during the search period, especially near the Western Australian coastline were “challenging”.
The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found
The underwater search commenced in October 2014, but was called off in January 2017.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of people involved in the search from around the world, the aircraft has not been located,” added the ATSB.
But the plane’s disappearance is itself shrouded in mystery. The ATSB notes that the Boeing 777 stopped transmitting data after “the first 38 minutes of the flight”.
“Subsequent analysis of radar and satellite communication data revealed the aircraft had actually continued to fly for a further seven hours. Its last position was positively fixed at the northern tip of Sumatra by the surveillance systems operating that night, six hours before it ended the flight in the southern Indian Ocean,” it added.
Regardless of the position, debris from the plane washed up on shores of east Africa.
“By studying the drift of the debris and combining these results with the analysis of the satellite communication data and the results of the surface and underwater searches, a specific area of the Indian Ocean was identified which was more likely to be where the aircraft ended the flight,” it noted.
But doubts of MH370’s final resting place, and what happened to the craft remains.
“The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found,” wrote the Bureau.
“It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”
“The ATSB expresses our deepest sympathies to the families of the passengers and crew on board MH370. We share your profound and prolonged grief, and deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing,” it concluded.
The plane, and those 239 souls, may now never be found.