Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777

Why Flight 370 May Never be Found

Malaysia MH370

Malaysia MH370

Dealing yet another blow to an investigation desperate for clues, investigators have determined that debris spotted by aircraft in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was not part of the lost airliner. Without a break in the case that would lead investigators quickly in the direction of the Boeing 777-200 that disappeared March 8, it is likely that we will never find the wreckage, even if debris does turn up in the coming weeks, months or years.

To get a sense of the odds at play here, let’s put the current state of the investigation into perspective.

Searchers are focusing on an area of the southern Indian Ocean about the size of New Mexico, and this search locale is only a best guess — one based on clever satellite science but also on some big assumptions about what altitude the 777 was flying at, how fast it was going and what direction it was headed, as winds are a critical part of the guesswork.

How good a guess is it? We simply won’t know until we find debris. Lacking such a discovery, we will never know.
The underlying question is: Are searchers even looking in the right part of an unimaginably giant expanse of ocean? I do not know, and the truth is, based on what investigators have told us, neither do they.

But even if the search is in the right neighborhood, remember that they are scouring this enormous area in aircraft and in boats looking for debris that could be no larger than about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide; more likely, such debris will be even smaller. The searchers are seeking these physical clues mostly with the naked eye and within an area littered with many millions of pieces of floating debris, much of it not much different looking than the pieces of wreckage that we would expect in the crash of a large transport airplane in the open ocean.

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