Official Suggests Malaysia Airlines Search Could Take Years

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 30 2014 2:57 PM

Official Suggests Malaysia Airlines Search Could Take Years as Clock Ticks on Black Box Battery

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Chinese relatives of passengers from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 display banners and the Chinese flag at a hotel in Subang Jaya, Malaysia

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

The search for flight MH370 entered its fourth week Sunday and there’s still no signs of the plane. The search efforts have ramped up, but jet debris continues to be elusive as officials said objects retrieved from the Indian Ocean were nothing but trash with no evident connection to the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, reports Bloomberg. Meanwhile, one U.S. Navy official suggested Sunday that the search could easily take years.

"Right now the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search,” U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews told journalists, according to Reuters.  "If you compare this to Air France flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water.” And that plane took two years to locate.

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The search in the new area Sunday involved eight ships while nine planes continued to look for clues from the air. Planes once again spotted objects that could be from the plane, but ships will have to pick them up before the connection can be made. The objects the ships picked up Saturday were nothing more than “fishing equipment and flotsam.” Despite all the obstacles, the search team is “hopeful … given that sightings of debris over the weekend mark the first time the Australian-led search has seen promising items in the water,” according to the Washington Post.

Searchers are now battling against time as the clock is ticking to find the black box. All black boxes emit a unique and continuous “ping” to help searchers locate it, but it has a battery life of roughly 30 days. “That gives the people searching for Flight 370 a little more than a week, perhaps 10 days at most, to not just pinpoint the place where a 240-foot plane went down in a roughly 200,000-square-mile area, but also find it on the ocean floor,” notes CBS.

Even as attention is focused on searching for debris, there’s still the question of what caused the plane to crash into the ocean in the first place. Investigators have come up empty from hundreds of interviews and background checks, so officials are looking again, in an effort to identify possible suspects, notes the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, relatives of Chinese passengers have arrived in Kuala Lampur and are demanding answers. The BBC’s Lucy Williamson reports:

[T]he message these families have brought won't be so easy to manage. At a brief press conference, they unfurled a banner which accused the Malaysian government of speculation and "trampling on innocent lives".
Many relatives accuse the Malaysian authorities of misinformation and secrecy. With no sign of flight MH370 or its passengers, their worn faces have become the most visible symbols of this mystery. And their frustration won't be easy for the government to deal with.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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