KUALA LUMPUR: The team scouring the depths of the southern Indian Ocean for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that disappeared exactly four years ago is optimistic that the deep will finally give up its secrets.
This optimism of the 65-man crew of the Seabed Constructor grows as the vessel, tasked with locating the aircraft, moves closer to completing the 25,000sq km search zone marked out by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau as the “most likely” final resting place of the Boeing 777-200ER with its 239 passengers and crew.
The search team has only 9,000sq km of this area left to cover. This fresh area is said to have the highest probability of containing the wreckage, based on the analysis of drift patterns of the Boeing 777’s flaperon found on Reunion Island in 2015. Analysis confirmed that it was from MH370.
In the event that the search area comes up empty, Seabed Constructor will proceed, as part of its 90-day search deadline, to two “extended sites” involving an estimated 48,000sq km.
The team’s confidence also comes from the fact that the “free-flying” Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are among the best that technology has to offer, equipped with side-scan sonars, multi-beam echosounders, sub-bottom profilers, HD cameras, self-compensating magnetometers, synthetic aperture sonars and turbidity sensors.
The eight AUVs, capable of operating at depths of up to 6,000m, are being deployed simultaneously and collect higher quality data.
Seabed Constructor began its journey from Durban, South Africa, to the search area, on Jan 2. It has sailed for 66 days, but the search in the designated areas, as of today, has only entered its 33rd day.
Malaysia has on board the vessel two Royal Malaysian Navy officers, who send daily reports and data back to Kuala Lumpur.
Royal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said apart from being the government’s eyes and ears on this mission, his two officers were tasked with ensuring that this mammoth undertaking was carried out as per the agreement between the Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity, the United Kingdom company based in the United States.
Kamarulzaman told the New Straits Times that the two hydrographers, Lieutenant Commander Azmi Rosedee, 32, and Lieutenant Abdul Halim Ahmad Nordin, 31, would also ensure the smooth operations of the search while addressing any speculation that may arise.
“Aside from that, the country will benefit immensely from having these two highly-trained officers on board to gain experience as this high-tech search uses the latest technology.”
Kamarulzaman hooked up the NST with the two officers, who had been enduring the roiling seas with 15m waves, on board the 7,883-tonne Norwegian-registered research vessel.
Azmi and Halim, in a written reply, said they and the rest of the crew were optimistic about finding the plane, although at times, when the full might of the elements was unleashed on them, this seemed like a daunting proposition.
“It’s been more than 30 days now, but the search team remains optimistic. We are giving our utmost to find the plane... We have gone through a number of rough days... days which we would not have been able to survive without having perseverance and a strong will.”
The officers gave an insight into what goes on in a deep-sea search-and-recovery operation.
“Operations continue even when the sea is rough... but it makes it difficult for us to deploy and recover the AUVs. This slows us down.
“Aside from that, the seabed (morphology) of the search areas is hilly and uneven. This also disrupts the AUV’s capability to thoroughly sweep the areas.
“When this happens, the team has to send the AUVs down again to areas that were not swept, or ‘painted’, by the side-scan sonar. This is to ensure that the whole radius is covered,” the two officers said.
Kamarulzaman addressed the criticism by some quarters, who questioned the presence of his men on board the vessel.
“Since the cost of this search will be borne by the government, it is necessary to have our representatives on board to observe the operation.
“This is the first search operation in the world where eight AUVs are being used simultaneously.
“Our officers should be exposed to high-technology.”