After a two-year, $200 million Australian-led search mission, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has confirmed it has been looking for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the wrong place.
“The previously defined indicative underwater area is unlikely to contain the missing aircraft,” the ATSB update read. “The aircraft is most likely to be located to the north of the current indicative underwater search area.”
The announcement confirmed what many amateur and professional aviation sleuths had been claiming for some time, while others, including an expert who spoke to The New Daily, defended the ATSB following the revelation, saying the search has been conducted using the best possible information.
The ATSB, along with Chinese and Malaysian authorities, searched for MH370 in a 120,000 square kilometre area of water in the southern Indian Ocean. It is now believed the aircraft lies in a 25,000 square kilometre area of water, just north-east of the current search zone.
The flight, travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, went missing on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board. All are presumed dead.
The ATSB confirmation comes nearly six months after Furgo – the engineering group carrying out the official search – told Reuters it was searching the wrong patch of ocean because the plane may have glided into the water rather than dived directly down.
In July, a coastal oceanography professor and his research assistant from the University of Western Australia wrote in The Conversation that: “The location of the possible crash site identified through the drift modelling presented here are located to the north of the current sea bed search area.”
Former pilot and MH370 commentator Desmond Ross in May claimed the ATSB and Malaysian authorities had been looking in the wrong spot from the beginning.
“I have never accepted the south Indian Ocean location as a viable crash site,” Mr Ross posted to his blog.
“My gut feeling, and experience, has, and will continue to tell me that the aircraft went down to the west of the Malaysian mainland without proper control of a human pilot.”
But aviation expert Neil Hansford told The New Daily ATSB’s announcement did not signal the transport body had made a mistake.
“The best information available at the time was to search this area based on what came from satellite pings,” Mr Hansford said.
“It was the only bit of evidence presenting itself that had proper verification and it was as close as you were going to get.”
Mr Hansford said his main criticism of the search was why it was being conducted at all.
“Years after a crash in the depths of the sea you will be unlikely to recover body parts or black boxes, so what is the motivation, what are we trying to achieve?” he said.
“Are we doing it to save face for the Malaysian government, the Chinese government?”
Review driven by experts
The ATSB’s “First Principles Review” is a summary of the outcomes of a November meeting into the mystery between Australian and international experts in Canberra.
The experts believed the updated resting area to be a 25,000sq/km area based on CSIRO ocean drift analysis and “updated flight path modelling”.
This announcement comes as the deadline for the Australian-led and Malaysia- and China-supported search nears its deadline.
The ATSB has stated if no major breakthroughs are made the search for MH370 will end in late January to early February 2017.
That deadline had already been extended from June this year, to August and then December.
The report has been handed to the Australian, Chinese and Malaysian governments for consideration.
Transport Minister Darren Chester said the government was hopeful the aircraft will be located. Six Australians were on board.
“Our thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of the 239 people on board,” Mr Chester said.
The Australian-led search has found no debris or trace of the aircraft. However a series of pieces of confirmed MH370 wreckage have been found by the public and amateur investigators on Madagascar, islands east of Madagascar and on the south-east African coast.