Australia tasked with black box data retrieval

Latest developments:

  • Gov't to make reports on MH370 public
     
  • Authorities probe if object washed ashore is linked to MH370
     
  • Australia still mulling proposed agreement on MH370 remains
     
  • Planes recalled as air search suspended due to poor weather
     
  • 80 percent of search area scoured

Follow us as we bring the latest updates and coverage for the search of Flight MH370:

Object eight feet tall, says police

8.53pm: According to the Busselton-Dunsborough Mail, the officer-in-charge at the Busselton Police Station says the object which washed up on shore was eight feet tall, half a metre wide, made up of an alloy type of metal and did not have any identifiable writing on it.

It quotes Senior Sergeant Steve Principe as saying that the person who discovered the object on a beach at Scott River near Augusta, some 300kilometres from Perth in Western Australia, held on to it for a day or two before taking it to the Busselton Regional Airport for inspection.

It was then passed on to the Busselton police today.

Black box goes to Australia

7.53pm: Wall Street Journal reports that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted by Malaysia hands responsibility of recovering data from Flight MH370's black box to Australia.

Quoting  Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ASTB) chief commissioner Martin Dolan, the MOU stipulates Australian air-crash investigators would have responsibility for downloading and analysing data from the plane’s black box flight recorders.

Australia is still mulling the proposed MOU, which covers the handling of the wreckage should it be found, as well as any human remains.

Cabinet agrees to setting up of expert panel

6.19pm: Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein holds a press conference on the status of the ongoing search for MAS Flight MH370 at the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • DCA chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman confirms Malaysia has received report from Australia on the “plastic sheet” which washed ashore on a West Australia beach, but says there is no verification it comes from MH370.
     
  • On reported requests by next-of-kin of passengers that the government also probe the claim the plane landed in Kandahar in Afghanistan, Hishammuddin says he is yet to receive their letter.

    In any case, he says the claim is within the “realm of speculation” and has yet to be verified.
     
  • Cabinet approves setting up of international investigation team. The sub committee led Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi will coordinate the formation this team.

    The international team will evaluate, investigate and determine cause of the incident but will avoid criminal elements as that will be investigated by police.
     
  • The Malaysia-Australia memorandum of understanding (MOU), being discussed, refers to the timeline and restrategising of the search and recovery (SAR) operations, and if visual air search will still be relevant.

    Hisham stresses that it does not touch on ending the search.
     
  • Malaysia has sent a preliminary report on the MH370 incident has been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), but they have yet to decide on whether to make the report public.
     
  • On media report searchers are looking into possibility the plane did not end up in the Indian Ocean after all, Hisham says when regrouping and restrategising, investigators must re-look at all data in order to chart next course.

    "We will continue with search operations until we have fully covered the search area."
     
  • Government will definitely make all reports public due to global interest in the crisis. However, reports must come from credible source, hence the panel of experts. “Malaysia has nothing to hide and in the end the truth will prevail,” Hishammuddin says.
     
  • On costs of search he says he has to look at the “dollars and cents”. Countries which were previously not able to help in the SAR are now offering aid as the next phase in search will require more assets, such as deep sea assets and submersibles.
Object washed up has 'distinct rivets'

5.19pm: The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) reports that authorities are studying material found washed ashore on a Western Australia beach to determine if it is linked to missing Flight MH370.

In a statement, it says Western Australia police attended to a report of material washed ashore 10 kilometres east of Augusta, which in turn is 300 kilometres from Perth, and have secured it.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is examining the photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370.

“The ATSB has also provided the photographs to the Malaysian investigation team,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that according to ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan, the object in question appears to be sheet metal with rivets.

However, he cautions: "The more we look at it, the less excited we get".

Quoting a source, CNN also states that object appears to have a fiberglass coating, "kind of rectangular" but torn and misshapen.

Nine News, however, reports a total of three objects washed up, one the length of a car with "distinct rivets'.

It says the objects were found by someone walking on the beach.

'Improve black boxes before live-streaming'

5pm: A former Boeing senior engineer is advocating improvements be made to black boxes instead of live-streaming of flight data, according to Astro Awani.

“It is easier compared to using new technology that needs a long time to be developed and tested first, to ensure it is safe and can be used,” says the former engineer Yulfian Aminanda, who is now a chief researcher at the International Islamic University.

For example, he says black box can be made to eject from the aircraft and float free from the wreckage upon impact into water, to make it easier to find. Ejectable black boxes are now primarily being used by military aircraft.

On streaming of data to a ‘cloud storage’ system, Yulfian says although the technology is already mature, it still needs to be tested to see how well it works in real-time and to check on failure rates, among others.

Work also needs to be done to prevent hacking of the data, he says.

Patience needed for undersea search, experts say

4.46pm: Amid doubts whether searchers are looking in the right place for MH370’s wreckage, some oceanographers are calling for patience.

Veteran wreck-hunter John Fish of the American Underwater Search & Survey Ltd tells Bloomberg that the Bluefin-21 underwater drone would take hours just to reach the ocean floor, and then requires constant attention to ensure that nothing is missed.

The report also quotes Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) special projects director Dave Gallo saying that even if Bluefin-21 finds nothing it its current search area, it is reasonable to believe that the wreck may lie just beyond the current search area.

Gallo, who oversaw the hunt for Air France Flight 447, also says that the two-year search at the time spurred talk of cover-up and ineptitude, just as in the case of missing MH370 right now.

“We went through our share of that, and it’s no fun for sure,” he said.

Both Gallo and Fish tells Bloomberg that there is no doubt MH370 will be found, even though it will take time.

Check plane in Afghanistan claim, families urge M'sia

4.10pm: As the Bluefin-21 underwater drone returns empty handed mission-after-mission, the next-of-kin of those on board MH370 are clamouring the government to look elsewhere, as far away as Kandahar in Afghanistan.

The online news portal Free Malaysia Today reports that the families sent a letter dated April 14 to acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak making this call.

“We are aware that government of Malaysia is currently focussing its search efforts in south Indian Ocean based on the data supplied by (satellite communications company) Inmarsat. However, we are entering the 37th day without success in finding any physical evidence in this area.

“Hence, it is high time that the government should start thinking out of the box by exploring and re-examining all leads, new and old.

“Based on this spirit, we respectfully request your kind consideration to re-engage the Russian and Afghanistan governments in order to examine and verify the claim that MH370 landed in Afghanistan,” the letter reportedly says.

This follows earlier reports that the plane had been sighted in Kandahar, quoting Russian intelligence sources.

Aust-M'sia agreement details to be kept confidential

2.50pm: The Australian government is still considering Malaysia’s proposed agreement concerning handling of MH370’s wreckage once it is found, and hopes to finish this sometime next week.

"The Australian government is currently considering that proposal from the Malaysians and will respond as quickly as possible. We hope to have resolved this within the next week," Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief commissioner Martin Dolan told CNN this morning.

The agreement outlines the responsibilities of Malaysia and Australia once MH370 is found, including the handling of the wreckage and any human remains.

It also discusses the deployment of resources should the ongoing search by the Bluefin-21 underwater drone fails to find any signs of wreckage, and calls for “a considerably wider search area”.

On contrary to the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman’s (left) earlier statement that details of the agreement can be released once signed, Dolan says the details are likely to be confidential.

Meanwhile, Dolan reportedly says he is expecting the international team of experts based in Kuala Lumpur to further refine the search area in a few weeks, based on their ongoing analysis.

Hisham calls for press conference

3pm: Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein will be holding a press conference on MH370 at 6pm today.

The press conference will be held at Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur where the MH370 operations room is now located.

'Far-reaching consequences' on air travel

2pm: The rare and mysterious circumstances surrounding MH370’s disappearance would have “more far-reaching consequences” that most aviation incidents, says Sydney Morning Herald travel editor Anthony Dennis.

In an opinion piece, he compiles a list these consequences, quoting a number of experts, a summary of which is as follows:
  • Chinese foreign travellers - whose numbers will reach 200 million by 2020 - are flexing their economic clout. Any major air accident involving many Chinese passengers will damage the reputations of the airline and the country involved if not handled carefully;
     
  • The wait at passport control could get a little longer, possibly up to four seconds more to screen for stolen passports;
     
  • There maybe a myriad of measures taken to improve aircraft tracking and cockpit security, among others, but economic and practical issues may prevent some of these measures;
     
  • Fatal air crashes remain rare incidents - occurring in one in 5 million flights and killing 210 persons in 2013 - and the industry is likely to recover from this quickly.
Air search operations halted once more

12.14pm: The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) announces today that air search operations have once more been suspended due to poor weather conditions in the search area.

In a statement, it states that the three aircraft that had departed to the search area prior to the suspension taking effect have been recalled.

"Current weather conditions are resulting in heavy seas and poor visibility and are making air search activities ineffective and potentially hazardous.

"The 12 ships involved in today’s search will continue with their planned activities," it says.

Passenger's family to forgo legal action

12.02pm: A recently sacked Fox News executive had reportedly asked the next-of-kin of one MH370 passenger to waive any compensation claims, according to a Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) report yesterday.

It says that using her company email, Darlene Tipton had emailed a proposal to Sarah Bajc - whose partner Philip Wood was on the missing aircraft - offering to help raise millions to help her.

She also claimed that her husband Ken Tipton had hallucinations that the passengers are still alive, but told Bajc that before she goes ahead with the fundraiser and reveal their location, Bajc would have forgo making compensation claims.

“If you’re going to sue, to just get money from entities that really should not bear any responsibility, and also take donations, that’s not ethical, that’s not right,” she reportedly tells SMH.

On Sunday, Fox News reportedly sacked Darlene after Bajc referred her fundraising offer to the US-based broadcaster.

According to an Associated Press report at the time, Darlene’s "conduct and communications" had violated company policy, but details of her proposal were unavailable.

Next phase in SAR to be known next week

11.05am: Australian Defence Minister David Johnston says an announcement on the next phase of the search for MH370 is likely to be made next week.

An Associated Press (AP) report says Australia is currently consulting with Malaysia, China, and the US on the next steps of the search.

“The next phase, I think, is that we step up with potentially a more powerful, more capable side-scan sonar to do deeper water,” Johnston (left) is quoted saying in the AP report.

A decision will also be made on whether the Bluefin-21 underwater drone will search the same search area again in the next phase of the operation, which will be made based on further analysis of available data.

The report adds that while the Bluefin-21 has already completed 80 percent of its search, Johnston estimates that it would keep searching the same area for another two weeks just to be “very thorough”.

Johnston, in a separate report by the AFP, also says Australia is not concerned about the search costs, but only in helping Malaysia and China find the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reiterates the nation's commitment to the search.

"We are not going to abandon the MH370 search. We owe it to the families of those on board to continue searching," he is quoted saying in a tweet by ABC News 24.

'Not a penny' spent on experts, says minister

10.45am: Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein tweets that he is planning to travel to Perth where the search for MH370 is being coordinated.

“(I’m) discussing with (Joint Agency Coordination Centre chief) Angus Houston. Maybe on completion of remaining 20 percent search by Bluefin,” he says to a question by a Twitter user.

He is referring to the Bluefin-21, a US Navy-loaned underwater drone which is currently scouring the seabed in the search area for any sign of MH370 wreckage.

In addition, he says he is still seeking more assets to help with the search, and will be discussing the matter with Petronas and Chinese authorities today.

Last night, he also tweeted that “not a penny” has been spent on experts investigating the MH370 incident so far, and points out that it is in their interest to find out what happened to the missing aircraft.

Read more here.

SAR to be reviewed if nothing found

9.45am: To recap, the US Navy-supplied Bluefin-21 underwater drone is currently using sonar to map the seafloor in an area believed to be the most likely location where the Boeing 777 had gone down.

It is trying to find possible signs of wreckage, which it would then try to verify using a camera.

Thus far, it has been 47 days since MH370 had gone missing. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Malaysian acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein have both said a review of the search operation may be necessary if nothing is found soon.

Separately, the cabinet is due to finalise the setting up of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Team for MH370 in a meeting this morning, which is to be comprised of experts from Malaysia and abroad.

Search still fruitless

7am: The Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle’s (AUV) search has turned up nothing again, amid mounting fear that it may have been searching in the wrong area.

The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) says the drone is now completing its tenth mission and has searched 80 percent of the underwater search area so far, which is a 10-kilometre radius around where the ship ADV Ocean Shield detected its second ping on April 8.

The detection, which is the strongest of the four that it heard in the same area, is found to be consistent with signals from two black box pingers – possibly one fitted on a flight data recorder, and another fitted on a cockpit voice recorder.

Meanwhile, 10 aircraft and 12 ships are participating in the visual search for debris on the ocean’s surface, but is hampered by bad weather. Air search was suspended yesterday due to Cyclone Jack.

“The weather forecast for today is for isolated showers increasing to heavy rain, widespread low cloud, with south easterly winds, sea swells up to 2.5 metres and visibility of one kilometre. Prevailing weather conditions may affect today's air search,” the JACC said.

The visual search will cover 37,948 square kilometres in an area 855 kilometres northwest of Perth.

Background:

  • The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200ER aircraft went missing not long after taking off from KL International Airport in the early hours of March 8, with 12 crew members and 227 passengers.
     
  • Authorities have determined that the plane intentionally turned back and altered its course shortly after cutting communications with tower controllers for unknown reasons and, based on satellite data, have estimated its last position to be in the south Indian Ocean.
     
  • The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Bluefin-21 was deployed on April 14 to conduct an undersea search up to depth of 4,800m, after searchers stopped using the pinger locator as the plane's black boxes beacon batteries have long exceeded their 30-day certified battery life.
     
  • The undersea area being searched now is where ADV Ocean Shield had picked up two pings similar to black boxes on April 5 and two more on April 8 but failed to reacquire them again with the pinger locator.