For over 10 days now, technology has been used in a desperate search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. To date, various governments around the world have used the most advanced surveillance planes, often equipped with radar, cameras and electro-optical sensors. This advanced technology has been scanning more than 600,000 square kilometers in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere.
The most advanced search plane being used is the US Navy’s P8-A Poseidon, which is being flown at 5000 feet. Now, the human eye, often aided by binoculars, are being used the most to eyeball the surface of the ocean. Sometimes the planes will drop to 1000 feet to closely observe the surface, when radar picks up objects in the water.
Much of the search is being conducted in an area known as the Roaring 40s, which is an area between latitude 40-50 degrees south best known for strong waves and winds.
Investigators to this point have determined that the flight from Kuala Lumpur was steered off its flight path on purpose to the west. Whoever was flying the plane at the time shut off the transponder, which helps radar to better pinpoint location.
The current search by eye and binoculars is being done based upon what the US government says is the most likely last known position for the aircraft, based upon satellite data. The possible search area has been adjusted to reflect water movement and weather since March 8 – the date the plane vanished.
Advanced surveillance plane technology does make the search easier, but the massive search area complicates matters greatly. Also, earlier searches by the P8-A in the ocean north of the Strait of Malacca found more than 400 radar contacts. None of them were associated with aircraft debris.
The P8-A is a heavily modified version of a Boeing 737. It has been joined in the hunt by a pair of Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion search planes.
Whenever the search crews detect anything by sight or radar that seems promising, they can drop sonobuoys from the plane. These are basically underwater microphones that will listen for any pings that might come from the plane’s black boxes. The black box should ping for up to 30 days.
The search is continuing, with technology aided by the naked eye. But even the most optimistic observer knows that the search can’t continue forever. At some point soon, it is expected that governments will have to call off the search and wait for some type of definitive evidence to trickle in.