Six months after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished without a trace, investigators are ready to begin an all-new, multimillion dollar search in the remote southern regions of the Indian Ocean, one of the most unfamiliar and alien places on planet Earth.
But before the all-out search effort begins, an effort to map the ocean floor in that little-explored region has already turned up something strange. According to media reports, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau detected what they called "hard spots" or "hard objects" on the ocean floor in the new search area.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was making a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China, on March 8 when ground controllers suddenly lost all communication with the plane.
Satellite data soon revealed that for an unknown reason, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 took a hard turn to the southwest, and instead of completing its relatively short jaunt to China's capital, flew toward, and over, the Indian Ocean — flying aimlessly for hours, investigators believe, until the plane went down in the water.
At least, investigators presume that it crashed in the water. A massive search effort earlier this year turned up nothing. But using a new data analysis, the search team believes it has narrowed down the area where the plane is likely resting to an area of just over 23,000 square miles.
"While it is impossible to determine with certainty where the aircraft may have entered the water, all the available data indicates a highly probable search area close to a long but narrow arc of the southern Indian Ocean," said ATSB Chief Martin Dolan. "The search will be a major undertaking. The complexities and challenges involved are immense, but not impossible."Before getting the all-out search underway, the Australian team has been attempting to map the ocean floor in the area — a surface which The Times of London newspaper described as "an area geologists know far less about than the surface of Mars."
That's when they discovered the mysterious new objects.
The objects may or may not be wreckage of the plane, Dolan told The Times, but they are "inconsistent" with the surrounding area of the ocean floor in the search area.
"Multibeam sonar can identify degrees of hardness, although it cannot distinguish between the hard metal of an aircraft and the hard rock of the seafloor," said the ATSB in a statement.
"There is nothing that has screamed out and said 'I look like an aircraft,'" Dolan added, saying that the objects might be geological formations rather than pieces of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Only when the area is searched in what is expected to be a year-long operation will investigators have a chance of identifying the strange objects with any certainty.