Sixteen months ago, I took a lot of interest in flight MH370. Now it’s back in the news, with what’s thought to be one of its wing components washing up on the island of Reunion, 5000 km from the area of the Indian ocean just west of Australia where the search for it is still being conducted.
It seems perfectly plausible that it could have drifted most of the way across the Indian ocean, given that the prevailing current in the region flows westward at around one nautical mile per hour.
What seems much less plausible is David Cameron’s offer of British hydrology experts to “pinpoint” where the airliner came down:
Hydrology experts who map currents and tides for the Royal Navy are ready to help pinpoint where the craft entered the water, if the wing is indeed part of the missing airliner.
Using detailed computer models of water movements, they may be able to trace back how the debris had moved, guiding search teams looking for the rest of the wreck.
Mr Cameron made the offer at dinner with Najib Razak, the Malaysian leader, in Kuala Lumpur.
I bet there are too many unknown variables to be able to do this. I believe sea surface currents are in part caused by winds, and winds can blow in all directions. So there’s no way the crash location can be “pinpointed”. But the exercise might not be entirely useless, because it would probably generate a swathe of possible crash sites, some of which might overlap the arc of possible locations that has already been generated using the satellite engine monitoring.
The wing component – believed to be a Boeing 777’s starboard ‘flaperon’ – is now on its way to Toulouse. What seem most remarkable to me is how little damaged it is.
Or rather, how the damage is almost entirely restricted to its trailing edge. This doesn’t look like something that has survived a high speed impact or explosion, which would have left it either twisted and torn, or full of holes.
It seems to be more consistent with an aircraft that has ditched in the sea at a fairly low speed, with the lowered flaperon fracturing and being torn off on impact with water.
I even wondered if the damage to the trailing edge might have happened some time later. However, since the seashells encrusting the trailing edge seem to be the same size and age as others, it looks as if this was damage that happened when the plane hit the water.
And if the aircraft was ditched at a fairly low speed, it would probably mean that the rest of it is as intact as this flaperon, and all in one piece. And it would also mean that it was still being flown when it hit the water.
It now seems clear that it did come down in the Indian ocean, and not at some obscure airfield. And they have been looking in the right region. Perhaps a marine biologist would be able to identify the various shells that are attached to the flaperon, and their usual habitat. That might give a further clue to the crash location. I hope they examine the shells as carefully as the rest of it.