Brendan Nicholson & Rosie Lewis, in The Australian, 31 July 2015, where the title is “MH370: ‘Gentle turn’ the key to mystery of missing airliner”
The suitcase was found on Thursday not far from plane wreckage which fuelled speculation it may be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, which vanished last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
But Martin Dolan, head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) which is leading the hunt for the plane in the remote southern Indian Ocean, said it appeared unlikely to be linked. “From what we understand so far there’s much less reason to be positive about the suitcase,” he told the ABC. “There’s no obvious indication it’s been in the water a long time and so on. “Obviously it has to be examined very carefully and a proper decision made but we don’t have the same level of confidence in that as potential evidence.”
Australia’s Transport and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss, who oversees the ATSB, was equally cautious. “In regard to the reports on the suitcase, arrangements have been made to retrieve the suitcase from where it was handed in to a local police station on the island and it will be assessed by the investigators,” his spokesman said. “In short though it may just be rubbish and there is no attached marine life to indicate that it has been in the water for any great length of time. But it will be examined.”
The ATSB has scoured more than 50,000 square kilometres of the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, but no physical evidence has ever been found. Authorities are planning to search a total of 120,000 square kilometres.
Abbott: debris ‘encouraging sign’: The bit of plane wreckage found on an island is “by far the most encouraging sign so far”, according to Tony Abbott, who says the mystery behind Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been “grappling” up until now.
The Prime Minister said he hoped the scrap of wing found on a beach on the French-owned Indian Ocean island of Reunion did turn out to be the “first bit of specific evidence” of the whereabouts of the plane. “We have long thought it went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean and at last, it seems, we may be on the verge of some confirmation,” Mr Abbott said on Sydney radio station 2SM. “We owe it to the families of the six Australians on board, we owe it to the families of all on board, we owe it to the travelling public — because there’s hardly one of us who doesn’t travel by air at some stage — to do everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this.”
If the wreckage does turn out to be from a Boeing 777, Mr Abbott said analysts would do their best to work out exactly where it came from. “I don’t know how accurate it will be but I dare say that will give us some more evidence and it might enable us to further advise the search area, it might,” he said.
MH370’s ‘gentle turn’ off course: Whoever was flying Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 when it disappeared in March last year made a gentle turn away from its planned course, possibly to avoid alerting passengers to the change of direction.
As what might be the first piece of wreckage from the missing jet was found on a beach on the French-owned Indian Ocean island of Reunion, aviation sources told The Australian that after more than a year exhausting all other possibilities, investigators believed the plane could not have behaved as it did, and followed the course it travelled, without “human hands on the controls”.
MH370 vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. No distress signal or message was sent and all 239 passengers and crew on the Boeing 777 are presumed dead. The aircraft is believed to have made a radical change of course less than an hour after it took off and to have crashed in the ocean far off Western Australia six hours later.
Aircraft experts have said the large piece of debris found on Reunion appeared to be a control surface known as a “flaperon” from the back edge of a wing. They have confirmed that it closely resembled a part from a Boeing 777. The wreckage will be sent to France for investigation.
Reports last night suggested a suitcase had also been washed up on Reunion but it was not clear whether it was from the missing plane.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the piece was “very likely” from a Boeing 777 but it remained to be seen if it indeed came from MH370.
Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Warren Truss said that if the wing section proved to be from MH370, that would be consistent with it drifting on currents for several thousand kilometres in 16 months from what was believed to be the crash site west of Australia. Mr Truss said it was too early to say the wing section was from the missing aircraft. But it was the first real lead, he added. “It certainly is an interesting discovery,” he said.
Mr Truss said marine experts were examining shellfish and other marine life attached to the debris to advise on where they might have originated and how long they would take to grow. This morning he said the suitcase had been handed to police on Reunion and investigators have made arrangements to retrieve it. “It may just be rubbish and there is no attached marine life to indicate that it’s been in the water for any great time, but it will be examined,” he told AAP.
A search led by Australia has so far covered 55,000 square kilometres of ocean floor up to 4km down. The search could eventually cover 120,000 square kilometres and is expected to cost Australia up to $90 million. Australia has already spent $76m on the search.
In Beijing, anxious families of the 153 Chinese passengers on the doomed aircraft were nervously awaiting the official forensic investigation of the debris. It is understood Chinese officials may have been sent to join the investigation. In a group statement, Chinese victims’ family members said they were desperate for information. Xu Jinghong, whose mother was on the flight, said families were sceptical each time an announcement about the plane was made.
“I find it hard to believe, it’s contradictory to investigations during the past year,” Mr Xu told The South China Morning Post.
The Australian has been told that, as it diverted from its course, the aircraft made a slow “half standard rate turn” which would have taken several minutes to swing it back over the Malay Peninsula. Then it headed southward to the ocean west of Australia. A standard half-rate turn is a very gentle change of course and it would take several minutes to complete. Whoever was flying the aircraft could well have also turned off the system of moving maps viewed in the passenger cabin, an aviation source said.
“Aircraft just don’t turn their transponder and their ACARS system off and then make an actual turn in direction all at the same time without someone being at the controls,” a source told The Australian. “Somebody made that happen. The aviation community is convinced there was a human hand involved.”
ACARS, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, is a digital data link system that transmits messages between aircraft and ground stations via radio or satellite.
“The systems were turned off and the aircraft then made a rate half turn across the Malay peninsula and joined the air route across the top of Sumatra and over the Indian Ocean,” a veteran aviator said. “Somebody either programmed that to happen or flew that course. Aircraft just don’t fly themselves. Somebody had to actually manoeuvre the aircraft and transponders don’t just stop transmitting. That was initiated by somebody and events then followed from there.”
The aircraft is believe to have flown on for six hours before it ran out of fuel, the engines flamed out and it crashed into the ocean.
Exhaustive examination of ocean currents by the investigators trying to find MH370 has confirmed that the wing section found on La Reunion could have drifted there from the apparent crash site off Western Australia.
The currents would have initially carried the section towards the Indonesian island of Sumatra and then circled out across the Indian Ocean.
Australian investigators say they hope to know within days if the debris is part of a Boeing 777. Mr Truss said the numbers BB670 found on the debris were not a serial number that could immediately identify the plane but could prove valuable if they were added during maintenance. Malaysia has sent an investigation team to Reunion.
A leading oceanographer who has helped in the search said the arrival of debris on Reunion Island was consistent with his own modelling of the likely drift from the crash site. Charitha Pattiaratchi, professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia, produced a model last year showing the MH370 debris could have been carried by the Indian Ocean’s characteristic anticlockwise towards Madagascar, west of Reunion, within 18 months. “The debris would have meandered, it would have gone around and round in swirls and eddies, and it would have taken some time to reach the west,” he said.
If the debris is confirmed to be part of a Boeing 777, that would rule out two other Indian Ocean crashes. Ethiopian Airlines flight 961, a Boeing 767, crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Comoro Islands in 1996, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew. The dead included three hijackers. South African Airways flight 295, a Boeing 747, crashed into the Indian Ocean east of Mauritius in 1987 after an in-flight fire, killing all on board.
Additional reporting: Scott Murdoch, Wang Yuanyuan, Victoria Laurie, Agencies
BBC: “Second Plane Part found on Reunion,” 3 August 2015, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/second-plane-part-found-on-reunion/ar-BBlkarE