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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why missing MH370 plane can't be found?

In March 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from radar during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A multinational search effort was swiftly launched but two years on, after a million square miles of ocean have been scoured and more than £47m spent, the crash site remains elusive.

So why can't the missing plane be found?

It isn't clear where the flight went

On the day of its disappearance, 8 March 2014, flight MH370 was tracked as normal until 1.22am local time.

Its last verbal contact occurred at 1:19:30, when Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah acknowledged, as is protocol, a send-off by Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, Lumpur Radar. The conversation was brief and conventional:

Lumpur Radar: "Malaysian three seven zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one two zero decimal nine. Good night."

Captain Shah: "Good night. Malaysian three seven zero."

The plane continued to appear on Malaysian military radar before suddenly turning westwards from its planned flight path and crossing the Malay Peninsula.

At 2.22am, it disappeared completely from radar while over the Andaman Sea, 200 nautical miles north-west of Penang.

It is still unclear why it deviated from its planned path and where precisely it went next.

Investigators have discovered that satellite communications continued between the aircraft and Inmarsat's satellite communications network until 8:19am, as the plane flew south over the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia's ministry of transport has long maintained that the Boeing 777 crashed in the Indian Ocean, but the exact location of its descent is unclear.

The search area is vast and the ocean is deep

In a video posted on YouTube last November, international investigators blamed deep water and the vast search area for their inability to find the missing plane

"Searching for MH370 is a complicated task," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said. "The search area is a long way from land, the water is very deep and the seafloor is largely uncharted."

Investigators have explained repeatedly that the task has been complicated by the fact some locations lie as deep as four miles below the surface.

"Daylight can only penetrate in some areas," says the agency. "[On the] deep sea floor, there is no sunlight, which has made progress in the search slow."

Black boxes are an imperfect system

Flight recorders, so-called "black boxes", can provide invaluable information about a crash – but unfortunately, they also go down with the plane, so need to be found for their data to be analysed.

A beacon, or "pinger", helps search teams close in on their location, but the boxes only have enough battery power to last about a month before they cease transmissions. Even the location of EgyptAir flight MS804 crash site took four full weeks to discover, despite extensive debris being found and search teams having a much clearer sense of where the plane went down.

Malaysian authorities have called for the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation, which helps develop aviation best practices, to implement new communication and tracking systems that broadcast information and follow planes in real time. This has not yet been adopted, largely due to the high cost of such systems, The Verge says.

There are many loose ends

Since it went missing, the only remnants of flight MH370 to be found are fragments of debris washed up on the coastlines of Reunion Island, Mozambique, Mauritius and South Africa.

Aviation experts have put up countless explanations as to why this might be, but in the absence of concrete evidence, conspiracy theorists have begun questioning everything from the site of the search to the plausibility of the wreckage itself and the very notion the plane crashed.

US psychologist Rob Brotherton, the author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, says as many as 90 per cent of people acknowledge entertaining one conspiracy theory or another. "Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them," he told the Los Angeles Times.

But, he adds, we shouldn't be quick to reject ideas, no matter how strange. "Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation," he says.

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