Some questions on the missing aircraft answered


> Are the ‘pings’ from MH370?

That remains to be determined, but Australia’s search chief said one of the country’s naval ships had twice detected signals “consistent” with aircraft black boxes, the strongest indication yet that the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was on the right trail.

> If they are from MH370, what happens next?

If the pings are confirmed, authorities would deploy a submersible device to scan the seabed for debris. If found, the difficult task of reaching and recovering the black box in ocean depths ranging from 4,000m-5,000m would begin.

Seafloor-mapping and recovery is “a very intense and time-consuming process”, said Anthony Brickhouse, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the United States.

But lessons were learnt during the two-year search for the data recorders from the 2009 crash of Air France flight 447, which contributed greatly to today’s body of knowledge, he said.

> If the pings are not from MH370, might the plane never be found?

If the pings are confirmed not to be from MH370, the search is back to square one, raising the daunting spectre of an open-ended surface search for floating debris or painstaking seafloor-mapping. But Air France showed that success is still possible.

> Did MH370 become a ‘ghost plane’?

This idea gained traction after Malaysia announced on March 15 – a week after MH370’s disappearance – that the plane apparently flew for nearly seven hours after vanishing from radar.

“Ghost planes” – in which the crew is incapacitated, leaving the plane to fly on aimlessly – have occurred before.

In 2005, a Greek Helios Airways plane with 121 aboard flew for hours after a sudden lack of oxygen incapacitated the cockpit crew.

It crashed, killing all aboard.

Some believe MH370’s pilots diverted the plane due to such an event – possibly attempting to return to Kuala Lumpur airport – but were subsequently incapacitated, leaving the plane to fly on autopilot.

The shutting off of communications systems may have been an attempt to stem a fire cause by faulty electrical circuits.

> What aviation changes might arise from MH370?

The aviation industry has a history of learning from disasters and implementing safeguards, making air travel one of the world’s safest modes of transport.

However, unless MH370’s black box or some wreckage can be recovered, that learning process cannot begin.

But MH370 has already sparked new discussion of implementing real-time satellite tracking of airliners to stop them going missing, and possibly reassessing the pilot’s ability to turn off communications systems. — AFP