The high velocity crash of a 737 operating flight MI185 for Silkair in 1997 into the Musi River near Palembang in Indonesia may indicate that very little will be recovered from the Malaysia Airlines MH370 crash, location uncertain, last Saturday.
The Silkair disaster is controversial to this day. However it is what physically happened to that jet that bodes badly if as widely believed the missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200 operating MH370 dived into, or exploded over, the Gulf of Thailand.
Even though MI185 was seen to crash, and its location was thus precisely known, and the recovery effort began promptly, the tidal reach of the Musi River literally rinsed the victims and much of the structural debris into the sea, never to be recovered. Anything that wasn’t driven into the mud within reach of dredging was lost.
If MH370 was either scattered over the shallow seas in the areas that are now being searched, or for some reason plunged into them, the nearly three days that have elapsed will have diluted and dispersed the dreadful aftermath. Human remains, clothing, paper, and other fittings will largely if not completely cease to exist, while the more corrosion resistant components may float for a period, but much of that will sink into the soft seabed, and be covered by silt or mud.
The most critical objects, the flight data recorder, and the cockpit voice recorder, should be readily recoverable and readable, but only if their location is known or discovered, which might prove to be by far the most difficult challenge authorities will face, even if floating fragments of wreckage are recovered here or there in the vastness of the seas and coastlines being searched.
The image below shows the assembly point for the wreckage dredged up from the Musi River mudflats after the 1997 MI185 disaster.
A reporter since November 30, 1960, Ben Sandilands looks at what really matters up in the sky: public administration of air transport and its safety, the accountability of the carriers, and space for everyone’s knees.
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