Computer modelling of ocean currents may help shed some light on the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian investigators hope.
As not a single piece of debris from the missing Boeing 777 has been found in more than eight months of efforts, a new ocean drift analysis will be carried out to help define new areas where fragments of wreckage may have been washed ashore.
"We are currently working ... to see if we can get an updated drift model for a much wider area where there might be possibilities of debris washing ashore," search coordinator Peter Foley told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Initial analysis had suggested that some remnants of the plane may have reached the coast of Western Sumatra about 123 days after the plane’s so far mysterious disappearance on 8 March this year.
Investigators have been receiving frequent reports of objects believed to belong to the plane being found on Australian beaches. However, not a single fragment has been confirmed so far as coming from the ill-fated aircraft.
The drift modelling supplements an ongoing surface and underwater hunt for the plane, coordinated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in close cooperation with aerospace companies Boeing and Thales, the US National Transportation Safety Board and the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
Last month, reports surfaced that there may have been some disagreement between the search partners about the most likely area where the plane had crashed.
However, ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan dismissed the concerns. "There is no disagreement, just the deliberate application of differing analysis models," he said.
He said all parties are in agreement that the most probable resting place of the aircraft, which disappeared during a regular flight from Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is along the so called 7th arc spanning the Indian Ocean off the Australian coast.
It was along this arc where telecommunication satellites of UK satcom provider Inmarsat last intercepted a regular signal from the plane.
The teams initially agreed that an area about 600 by 90km in size west of Perth was the most likely resting place. A new report released last month specified two high-priority areas further to the south.
Earlier this week, the ATSB said 7,000 square kilometres of the sea floor have already been combed, with Dutch-operated ship Fugro Equator arriving in the search area at the end of last week to carry out a bathymetric survey. Its sister ship Fugro Discovery, together with Australia’s GO Phoenix, have left the search zone to resupply and will return to the location soon.
239 people are believed to have been killed in the disaster, which has since become the greatest aviation mystery of all time, spurring the costliest and most extensive search operation in the history of aviation.
The plane crashed several hours after straying away from its original course probably after running out of fuel. The cause of the diversion is not known.