Australia leads new phase of search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

The Sydney News.Net Sunday 5th October, 2014

SYDNEY, Australia - The search for the missing wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is the largest of its kind in history, while the disappearance of the plane remains the greatest mystery in commercial aviation, but on Sunday a new phase in the search effort began, led by Australia.

The search vessel GO Phoenix, supplied by Malaysia, arrived on site in the Southern Indian Ocean on Sunday to begin a detailed mapping of the ocean floor in the area the wreckage of the plane is believed to be lying.

This marks the beginning of an important new phase in the search for the aircraft, Australian authorities have said. Australia is leading the search for the plane at the request of the Malaysian government.

GO Phoenix will be joined in the coming days by two further survey ships to conduct detailed sonar sweeps in a focused area in which the plane is believed to have gone down.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared at round 1:30 am local time on March 8th, when air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the Boeing 777-200ER. It was flying over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam at the time.

The plane's transponder, which identifies the aircraft and relays details like altitude and speed to controllers, stopped transmitting, and the airliner disappeared, seemingly without a trace.

In the weeks following the disappearance the largest search and rescue mission the world has ever known was launched, with several dozen planes and ships from 14 countries scouring the South China Sea, south of Vietnam and the Malaysian peninsula.

The search was then shifted to the South Indian Ocean after it was determined that the plane diverted south and since then the search has come to focus on an area of ocean 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) off the coast of Western Australia.

The international air search effort was called off in April as the search shifted to an underwater focus, with radio beacon signals in May raising hopes that the search was warming up. The Australian government is now leading efforts to create an accurate survey of the sea floor in the search area in hopes of finding wreckage.

A ship from Dutch surveying company Fugro, continues to map the underwater topography and has to date created a map for 111,000 square kilometers of the wide search area, which has been studied in details for clues or signs of wreckage.

However, according to Stuart Minchin, head of the Environmental Geoscience Division of Geoscience Australia, the agency overseeing the mapping process, the existing data for the sea floor in that area is at a very low resolution.

Hence, the new phase in the search, which will see GO Phoenix creating a much higher resolution picture of the sea floor, so that the two Dutch ships, the Fugro Discovery and the Fugro Equator can safely tow sonar devices very close to the ocean floor to try and find the plane's wreckage.

"In the second phase of the search, which involves towing devices close to the sea bed to get a very fine resolution picture of what's down there it's important to have that level of detail so we don't run into objects," says Minchin.

"The current plan envisages that we will progressively cover our priority search areas over the course of about a year," says Martin Dolan, Chief Commissioner and CEO of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

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