Yet another bid to solve the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance is to be mounted after the Malaysian government approved a new attempt by a private company to find the wreckage.
The Houston, Texas, outfit Ocean Infinity has already dispatched the Seabed Constructor, one of the world’s most sophisticated deep-sea research vessels, to the southern Indian Ocean, where it will resume the search for debris with a fleet of undersea drones capable of reaching far greater depths than any submersible previously deployed.
MH370 disappeared with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on March 8, 2014, on what should have been a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The governments of Malaysia, China and Australia called off the nearly three-year official search in January 2017, with Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) final report conceding that authorities were at that point no closer to knowing why the Boeing 777 vanished or its exact location.
“The basis of the offer from Ocean Infinity is based on ‘no cure, no fee’,” Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said, meaning that payment will be made only if the company finds the wreckage.
“That means they are willing to search the area of 25,000 square kilometres pointed out by the expert group near the Australian waters.”
However, he added: “I don’t want to give too much hope … to the [next of kin].”
Ocean Infinity said in a statement that the Seabed Constructor set sail from the South African port of Durban last Tuesday and aimed to take advantage of favourable weather to move toward “the vicinity of the possible search zone”.
In the initial hunt for the plane, a 52-day surface search covered an area of several million square kilometres in the Indian Ocean to the west of southern Australia. A subsequent underwater search mapped 710,000 square kilometres of seabed at depths of up to 6000 metres.
They were the largest aviation searches of their kind in history, according to the ATSB.
The new search area covers 25,000 square kilometres of sea floor and is just a few degrees to the north of the old one picked over during previous searches.
In contrast to earlier searches, which used just one submersible drone with a maximum search depth of 4000 metres, the Seabed Constructor can deploy as many as eight titanium-shielded robotic submersibles capable of operating at depths of up 6000 metres.
Despite the analysis of satellite imagery and investigating ocean drifts after debris from the plane washed ashore on islands in the eastern Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa, the 1046-day search was called off on January 17 last year.
However, the ATSB’s report said the understanding of where the plane may be is “better now than it has ever been”, partly as a result of studying debris that washed ashore in 2015 and 2016.
Those fragments of the plane were enough for investigators to conclude the plane was “not configured for a ditching at the end-of-flight”, meaning it had run out of fuel.