Those searching for Malaysian Flight MH370 were distracted by what were likely bogus underwater signals and have yet to search the area that is the most likely crash site, British satellite company Inmarsat said Tuesday.
The Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield was dispatched to investigate, but before reaching the likely site it began to detect signals that it believed were coming from the plane's black box, Inmarsat said.
Two months were spent searching 850 square kilometres (330 square miles) of sea bed northwest of Perth, but the source of the "pings" was never found and a submersible robot found no evidence of the airliner.
"It was by no means an unrealistic location, but it was further to the northeast than our area of highest probability," said Inmarsat's Chris Ashton, in remarks on BBC's Horizon programme.
Experts from the satellite firm modelled the most likely flight path using the hourly pings and assuming a speed and heading consistent with the plane being flown by autopilot.
"We can identify a path that matches exactly with all those frequency measurements and with the timing measurements and lands on the final arc at a particular location, which then gives us a sort of a hotspot area on the final arc where we believe the most likely area is," explained Ashton.
But Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which was managing the search, said the four acoustic "pings" picked up by the black box detector attached to the Ocean Shield had to be pursued at the time.
"The four signals taken together constituted the most promising lead in the search for MH370 and it was a lead that needed to be pursued until completion so the search team could either discount or confirm the area as the final resting place of MH370," the JACC said in a statement to AFP.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with a total of 239 passengers and crew on board.
'This is complex work'
Australian officials agree that a linear arc produced using the satellite messages, or "handshakes", leading to the southern Indian Ocean likely represents the plane's flight path.
But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said experts were still working to define the area to be scoured in the next phase of the search, which will plunge to ocean depths of up to 6,000 feet (1,830 metres).
"The search strategy group is continuing its analysis of satellite and aircraft performance data, along with a range of other information, to determine the area that offers the highest probability of finding the aircraft," a spokesman said.
"This is highly complex work that requires significant collaborative effort with international specialists. The revised search zone is expected to be available in the coming weeks."
Malaysia's civil aviation authority and Inmarsat last month released the raw satellite data after coming under criticism from relatives over the fruitless search.
However, its complexity has led to few independent conclusions being drawn about the likely crash site.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-06-17