Malaysia Airlines: Black box may never give up the secrets of Flight MH370

Published: March 26, 2014

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In this photo taken April 29, 2014 provided by the Australia Defence Force, multinational air-crew and aircraft involved in operation "Southern Indian Ocean" are assembled for a photo at RAAF Base Pearce, in Perth, Western Australia. Seven nations, including Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., South Korea, Malaysia, China and Japan, have flew daily search mission out to the southern Indian Ocean in the massive multinational hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. AP Photo/Australian Defence Force, Cpl. Nicci Freeman

JONATHAN PEARLMAN
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

The crucial moments of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet may never be discovered because the black box that records details of the flight may have overwritten key data, experts have warned.

As the search for the wreckage of Flight MH370 was bolstered yesterday (Wednesday) by the detection of 122 “credible” floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean, experts said the black box may be “impossible” to find anyway.

debri-black box

The crucial moments of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet may never be discovered because the black box that records details of the flight may have overwritten key data, experts have warned. AP Photo

A United States black box detector being towed to the area is due to arrive on April 5, 28 days after the crash and just two days before the data recorder’s pinger is due to run out of battery life.

David Barry, an aviation specialist at Cranfield University, said the pings may continue for an extra 10 days but the signal would weaken. He said the effort to find the box could take years.

“Given the remoteness of the site and the depth of the water and the weather down there, the black box will be almost impossible to find,” he said. “It will then be a case of digging through the wreckage field, possibly for a couple of years.”

A further difficulty for the crash investigators is that the crucial moment for understanding the unusual flight revolves around the period during which its communications systems were disabled and it took a sharp turn westward before flying silently for about seven hours. This occurred during the first hour of the flight, but the black box records cockpit communication on a two-hour loop and deletes all but the final two hours.

Mr Barry said “the bit we are interested in – where they lost contact with air traffic control – would have been overridden unless power to the recorder was lost”.
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, said that new satellite images had found objects ranging in size from three to 75 feet across an area of 154 square miles in the Indian Ocean. He described the sighting of an apparent debris field as “the most credible lead we have so far”.

The images, captured through clouds by Airbus Defence and Space in France four days ago, were about 1,589 miles south-west of Perth. The zone tallies with previous images captured by United States and Chinese satellites.

“We cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370,” Mr Hishammuddin said. “Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation.”

Twelve aircraft flew over the search area yesterday but spotted only three objects, including two items believed to be rope and a blue piece of flotsam. No wreckage has been found, nor any confirmed sign of the missing aircraft, since it disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8.

Mr Hishammuddin said authorities have begun looking at the steps that would need to be taken after the crash site and wreckage were found. The priority was to locate the black box.

As the search continued, a multi-million-dollar lawsuit was initiated in the United States against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.

A firm representing families of the passengers filed a petition of discovery in Illinois, requiring the companies to produce evidence of possible flaws in the crashed Boeing 777.

“We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370,” said Monica Kelly, the lead lawyer.

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