Australia is using the satellite tracking data for missing flight MH370 that Malaysia authorities have refused to make public to refine its southern search missions which have begun flying from Perth.
Its Maritime Safety Authority has identified the furthest extent of the southern search zone for the lost Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER and its 239 passengers and crew as being most promising yet most difficult area to sweep, and is in the process of making its third examination today of a section of ocean 3000 kilometres SW of Perth using RAAF Orions.
The distance to those sweeps put the Orions near the end of their capabilities, an observation of interest to analysts because the AP-3C Orions have the best range and endurance performance available at least in current widespread use in the world of maritime surveillance today.
AMSA manager search and rescue operations, John Young, revealed that Australia had specific information based on satellite data that had caused it to choose a comparatively small part of the southern hemisphere arc along which the last electronic signal from the lost Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER at 8.11 am KL time could have been made on 8 March.
That location had been chosen after modelling based on higher and lower speed assumptions for the flight, surface water movements and drift patterns across the remote section of ocean.
While AMSA had been able to exclude much of the southern hemisphere search arc from immediate consideration, it was left with a zone covering 600,000 square kilometers.
Young said AMSA had used earlier satellite pings send by the ACARS equipment on MH370 to produce a best estimate flight path for the 777 before its final standby signal was received. The signal came 7 hours 31 minutes after MH370 had taken off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12.40 am local time on 8 March on a 5 hours 50 minute flight.
Young acknowledged that at that time the 777 had around 30 minutes fuel left, and the higher and lower speed estimates used in AMSA’s modelling were important factors in setting the various limits for the target areas for sweeps looking for floating debris.
In a lost opportunity in the press conference in Canberra, Young wasn’t asked if the satellite data was confined to information picked up by the Inmarsat platform in a geosynchronous location over the equator above the east Indian Ocean or took in ‘other’ satellite fixes.
However Australia had worked on the satellite intelligence that the US National Transportation Safety Board had already made available to Malaysia authorities, and adjusted it for currents as well as wind and ocean surface conditions that would shift debris from an initial impact point.
AMSA said ships using southern Indian Ocean routes would play a crucial role in any debris was sighted by the search effort, which by tomorrow will include four Australian Orions, one NZ Orion, and a US P8 Poseidon, a new maritime surveilliance platform based on the civilian 737 design, which will bring greater speed to the task of reaching areas of interest.
Its SAR manager John Young said one merchant ship has passed through the area of most immediate interest to AMSA today and another was due in the area tomorrow. If debris was sighted such isolated shipping movements might be used to retrieve objects faster than could be the case if naval or other suitable vessels were sent from Australia or elsewhere.
Young said the safety of those onboard the missing jet was “a matter of great concern” and that ascertaining if there were any survivors, should wreckage be found, would be AMSA’s first priotrity. He wouldn’t be drawn on the possibility that MH370 has come down along the mirror image northern hemisphere arc from which the last known electronic trace from the jet could have come, other than to give the media a lucid explanation as to why both arcs were, signal wise, of equal validity.
That answer implied that AMSA only has Inmarsat data analysis at its disposal, but did not, because he wasn’t specifically asked, clear up the possibility that there was information gleaned from other satellites, presumably performing military surveillance.
Young said that conditions in the sweep zones today included a three metre swell. He said that AMSA had not detected any distress signals from MH370, and also estimated that it could take several months to intensively search the southern hemisphere zones of interest for debris from the flight had it come down in that part of the world.
He said that China was interested in participating in the the southern searches with shipping and was in discussions with AMSA as to what assets it might be able to deploy.
AMSA would constantly check and vary its modelling and estimates as to targets to sweep based on every single piece of intelligence that it received as to the course of of MH370. “That’s what we do,” he said. “We take every single piece of information we can get in relation to our duties and work through them right back to their source and eveything they could mean.”