Undersea volcanoes complicate jet search
Sydney – Searchers racing to find flight MH370′s “black box” face daunting hurdles ranging from undersea volcanoes to mountainous seas as they operate in one of Earth’s most remote locations, experts said Wednesday as Malaysia said a satellite has captured images of 122 objects in the Indian Ocean.
They warned there was no guarantee that an unprecedented international search operation involving the militaries of six nations would succeed in retrieving wreckage of the doomed Malaysian Airlines plane which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said the search zone – in the southern Indian Ocean some 2,500 kms southwest of Perth – was “as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be.”
Meanwhile, planes and ships converged on the southern Indian Ocean Wednesday, resuming the hunt for wreckage from Flight MH370 after weather conditions improved, as grieving passengers’ families demand answers about the ill-fated jet.
Gale force winds, driving rain and mountainous seas prevented any sorties being flown from Perth in Australia’s west on Tuesday, but 12 aircraft were deployed Wednesday, with South Korean planes joining the hunt for the first time.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the objects were seen close to where three other satellites previously detected objects.
He said Wednesday the sightings together are “the most credible lead that we have.”
The images taken on March 23 by Airbus Defense and Space in France were analyzed by the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency.
“’Some objects were a meter in length and others were as much as 23 meters in length,” he added. “Some of the objects appear to be bright, possibly indicating solid material. The objects were located approximately 2,557 kilometers from Perth.”
Massive Civil Suit
But as the search continued, US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International said it was getting the ball rolling on a potential “multi-million dollar” legal action against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing, raising the spectre of massive civil lawsuits in the disaster.
“We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370,” the firm said in a statement.
It said it filed a court petition in the US state of Illinois Tuesday seeking documents pertaining to possible manufacturing defects or airline misconduct that may have led to the disaster.
University of New South Wales oceanographer Erik van Sebille said the crash site was in an area known as “the Roaring Forties,” notorious among mariners for its hostile seas.
“In general, this is the windiest and waviest part of the ocean,” he said. “In winter, if a storm passes by you can expect waves of 10-15 meters.”
The Soufan Group, a US-based strategic security intelligence consultancy, likened searching for debris in such conditions to “finding a drifting needle in a chaotic, color-changing, perception-shifting, motion-sickness-inducing haystack.”
“A random wave might obscure the object when the eyes pass over it; sun glare off the water may blind momentarily; a look two degrees to the left when the object is most visible may cause the moment to pass,” it said.
Even if the search does find verifiable wreckage from MH370 on the surface, geologist Robin Beaman said underwater volcanoes would probably hamper efforts to recover the black box flight recorder from the depths.
Beaman said the Southeast Indian Ocean Ridge cut directly through the search area, meaning the sea bed was rugged and constantly being reshaped by magma flows.
He said the ridge was an “extremely active” range of volcanoes sitting at an average depth of 3,000 meters, which marked the point where the Antarctic and Australasian tectonic plates collide.
“It’s very unfortunate if that debris has landed on the active crest area, it will make life more challenging,” Beaman, who specializes in underwater geology at Queensland’s James Cook University, told AFP.