The complexity and residual uncertainty of drift analyses: ATSB

Pressure is being applied on two fronts to the Turnbull Government to re-open the search for missing flight MH370 just as it seems all but paralysed by the political and constitutional crisis caused by Australian parliamentarians holding dual nationalities.

Whether these campaigns to resume looking for the Malaysia Airlines 777-200 ER that disappeared while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 with 239 people onboard are successful may well be determined by their perceived value as ‘circuit breakers’ from the risks to the survival of this Coalition government posed by this unrelated but over arching crisis.

The Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) provides the time poor with this succinct notification of the progress made by Geoscience Australia in interpreting images of debris in the south Indian Ocean taken by a French military satellite on March 23, 2014, and a separate report by the CSIRO refining drift analysis it has carried out on debris from the jet recovered from westerly locations in that ocean.

In this latest notification ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood tactfully hoses down the blunter claims made in some media reports that the CSIRO has identified a precise location for the wreckage, yet one which his Minister for Infrastructure, Darren Chester has declined to endorse because it doesn’t guarantee that it identifies the location of the sunk wreckage of the jet with sufficient precision.

In fact the CSIRO analysis that first identified a new search prospect was published with implicit and unambiguous ATSB encouragement just before Christmas last year.

It was also rapidly rejected as a new search imperative by Minister Chester the same day, and this led to extensive discussion on Plane Talking in the following months and those detailed reports and discussions can be accessed using the MH370 search button on this site.

Coming over the top of these latest refinements, and the long sought release of more information from the French military satellite, is the offer by an American oceanographic exploration firm, Ocean Infinity, to launch a radically faster seabed search for an undisclosed fee paid only if it succeeds in finding the wreckage.

There has been no coherent nor official Yes/No response to this offer a ‘free’ resumption of searching from either the Australian or Malaysian authorities.

Ocean Infinity has put both countries on the spot, something which may not elicit the co-operation of the administrative branches which advise governments in both countries, and it is the Malaysians who actually make the calls when it comes to what the ATSB managed (suspended) search for MH370 actually does.

Public service culture is strongly media pressure resistant, and as the principal sources of information and advice to governments, they tend to double down on errors of judgment, in the interests of face saving, and sometimes with very undesirable policy outcomes.

While it is true that none of the French identified potential objects were identified or examined by the original AMSA search, or the later aerial and sea surface activities of the ATSB managed searches, it has long been argued that the ATSB was with hindsight too hasty in shifting its efforts to the north-east of the zone near where the satellite images were made.

That has been a controversial talking point since late March 2014, and reported as such on some news sites, including this one.

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