Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Not So Fast — Search Could Take Another Year, Experts Now Say

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 officially resumed on Sunday, with the first of three high-tech search ships arriving in the newly designated, 23,000-square-mile search area and combing the Indian Ocean floor.

But it appears that Australian authorities who said Friday that they expected the missing Malaysia Airlines plane to be found within days, experts now say that search could take another year.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. Cautious because of all the technical and other challenges we’ve got, but optimistic because we’re confident in the analysis,” said Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Martin Dolan. “But it’s just a very big area that we’re looking at.”

The Malaysian search ship GO Phoenix entered the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 search zone Sunday, to begin the painstaking process that involves lowering a sensor to just 330 feet above the ocean floor, then moving it at a speed of no more than seven miles per hour.

That’s where the intricate process of mapping the terrain on the floor of the previously unexplored stretch of the Indian Ocean comes in — a process that turned up once-undiscovered mountain ranges and plummeting trenches.

“You can imagine if you’re towing a device close to the seafloor, you want to know if you’re about to run into a mountain,” said geological analyst Stuart Minchin, who has been poring over the brand new mapping data.

Not only will the ships looking for Flight MH370 be dragging their devices along at the speed of a weekend jogger, every time a ship needs to make a turn, the crew must pull the sensor device, known as a “towfish,” all the way up from the bottom. Otherwise, the towfish could sink to the bottom and be lost.

The process of raising the towfish each time a ship changes direction takes hours.

Last Wednesday, Australia’s Transport Minister Warren Truss said that he believed that at least some wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines plane within a week, but given the painstaking and complicated nature of the search, that projection appears to depend on searchers having an incredible stroke of luck.

“None of this happens very quickly,” said Dolan.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 during an otherwise routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijng. An massive, multi-national search effort turned up nothing, and wrapped up in May.