Months of challenging search expected in locating MH370, says expert

Finding the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 aircraft could take months even if the debris shown in satellite images in the southern Indian Ocean is part of the missing plane, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

Quoting David G. Gallo, a director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, it said that getting the required machinery or "robotic submersibles" to the site where the debris was spotted would take a month.

After that, it could be one to six months before the missing Boeing 777 aircraft is found, he added. But he was sure that undersea-exploration specialists would be successful in their mission.

The business daily reported that the area where Australia is heading search operations – a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean – lies above the Southeast India Ridge. It runs in the east-west direction, with a peak of roughly 2,500 metres under the surface to some 4,000 metres in depth.

Gallo told The Wall Street Journal that the terrain is relatively easy to examine, going by deep-sea standards. It would definitely be easier than the area in the south Atlantic Ocean, where Air France flight 447 went down in 2009, which experts from Woods Hole helped locate.

"This would not really be as big a challenge as with Air France 447, which went down in much more ridged terrain. This is more gently sloping," he was quoted as saying.

He said oceanographers will be able to use mathematical models to calculate where the aircraft hit the water when its debris is found.

The experts would then either use sonar-equipped robotic submersibles, which are then deployed to scan the sea floor, or use high-resolution cameras to build up a detailed picture of the area.

This technology, Gallo said, would be able to locate the aircraft even if its black box – which contains digital flight data and recordings of cockpit conversations – no longer sends out signals.

Black box "pings" are often difficult to detect in deep water, he added.

He warned that search operations would not be "routine".

"There's very few pieces of equipment in the world that can do this," he said, urging authorities to make a head start on planning for an undersea search now, taking into account how long the process could take. – March 21, 2014.