TIME Aviation

An Expert Says Our Search Strategy Will Need Overhauling If the Réunion Debris Is From MH370

The discovery of possible MH370 debris on Réunion Island would mean that the existing search zone is wrong, a top oceanographer explains

On Friday, a group of French officials boarded a 12-hour flight to Paris from Réunion, a volcanic island and French territory in the southwest Indian Ocean. With them was a 9-ft.-by-3-ft. piece of flotsam many believe is a wing-flap from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

It was the unremarkable final stretch on what may turn out to be the wing-flap’s remarkable journey—if indeed it is a wing-flap, and if it turns out to have actually come from MH370. Sources in Boeing have told CNN they are ”confident” the flotsam was part of a Boeing 777, and experts have little doubt the part came from the doomed jetliner. That would mean this debris could have been drifting on ocean currents for more than 500 days for some 2,500 miles, or the equivalent to driving Route 66 from New York to Los Angeles.

Yet what is more remarkable is what more it can tell us. It could, for example, nix ongoing search efforts, which are currently focused around 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. Authorities have scoured 21,000 square miles of a 23,000 square mile search zone in an operation costing well over $100,000 million, and which has involved thousand of flights, dozens of ships and several submarines. They are now poised to head south and double the search zone’s size.

On Friday, Australian deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told a press conference that he was “confident” this zone was the right one “based on continuing refinement of the satalite data.” He added: “We will continue to concentrate on the southern end of that identified area.”

However, according to Erik van Sebille, a lecturer in oceanography at Imperial College London, the flotsam’s very appearance in Réunion—if it is proven to come from MH370—would mean that searchers have been looking in the wrong place.

“If you take into account the currents in the Indian Ocean, then you can trace the flow backwards from the northern part of the search zone,” he tells TIME. “It would exclude the southern part as anything that drifts from there would go eastward into the Pacific Ocean.”

Following the discovery of the supposed debris—spotted on a pebble beach by an eagle-eyed government worker named Johnny Bègue—helicopters have been scouring Réunion, which lies around 600 mi east of Madagascar, for more. Reports of luggage fragments are currently being investigated. However, van Sebille also believes such efforts are largely misplaced, factoring in the frenzied nature of the ocean’s currents.

“The ocean currents are not like highways. They are not really simple and predictable—they are actually quite chaotic. It’s a bit like the weather,” he says. “It’s just like how San Francisco is typically used to the westerly wind, but every so often it might come the other way—it’s the same for the ocean.”

Experiments with GPS-tracked objects, released 30ft apart in the ocean, have resulted in them drifting hundreds of miles apart within just a month. So while the broad strokes of the ocean’s currents can be mapped, conclusions are typically ambiguous. By tracing the currents from Réunion back to the search zone, “our best hope is that we can perhaps pin down the region to perhaps a few hundred miles, which will still be very large,” says van Sebille.

The barnacles clinging to the wing-flap can also tell a story. Very quickly, investigators will be able to tell from their size how long the object has been in the water, meaning that even if serial numbers cannot categorically prove the object came from MH370, identifying the plane model, combined with time adrift, could remove reasonable doubt.

As there are more than 1,000 species of barnacles in the ocean, with their provenance depending on myriad environmental factors, Benny K.K. Chan, associate professor of marine biology at National Taiwan University, says that it would also be possible to lead back to a specific crash site by identifying certain varieties.

“There are some species of barnacles that have very distinct distribution, and so if you get some of these then maybe you could get some hint from where this wing-flap has drifted,” he tells TIME. “But from the pictures I can only see the lepas genus, which are common to nearly all floating objects.”

Experts are due to examine the flotsam at a laboratory in Toulouse, with conclusions expected in the next day or so. But the value of the wing-flap—again, if MH370’s wing-flap is what it actually is—increases exponentially should more debris be found, especially, and perhaps surprisingly, if it is found far from the original discovery.

“If we find some debris somewhere else on a completely different part of the Indian Ocean, then what we can do is backtrack that too and then look at the overlap,” says van Sebille. “You can then look at the overlap of all the rough areas. It’s essentially triangulation.”

TIME Aviation

What to Know About the New Malaysia Airlines Clue

The discovery is the most significant since the Boeing 777 vanished almost 17 months ago

An Australian official warned Thursday not to jump to conclusions about a barnacle-encrusted, 9-by-3-ft. piece of flotsam that washed up on the French island of Reunion — a discovery many are saying may be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Australia’s deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, said it was premature to link the recovered chunk of metal with the jet that went missing 509 days ago. “It is too early to make that judgment,” Truss said at a news conference in Sydney. “But clearly we are treating this as a major lead and seeking to get assurance about what has been found and whether it is indeed linked to the disappearance of MH 370.”

Other officials have a “high degree of confidence” that the discovery is an aluminum-composite wing-flap from a Boeing 777, the same type of plane that vanished shortly after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014. The 227 passengers and 12 crew are all presumed dead.

Now engineers from Boeing are examining the debris to confirm that it is a flaperon from a 777, and even, if possible, from MH370 specifically. “We are treating this as a major lead and seeking to get assurance about what has been found and if it is indeed liked to the disappearance of MH370,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said at a press conference Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Where does the investigation stand?

Initial search efforts were concentrated along the flight’s charted route over the South China Sea, but then moved to the Strait of Malacca when Thai military radar indicated the aircraft doubled back across the Malay Peninsula (conventional tracking wasn’t possible as the plane’s secondary radar had been disabled inside the cockpit).

Then, after still no trace was found, pioneering data analysis by British satellite telecom firm Inmarsat indicated that MH370 had traveled south into the Indian Ocean, probably running out of fuel roughly 1,000 miles off the western Australia city of Perth.

A total of 55,000 sq km of seafloor has been scoured in this area, but the lack of any success prompted the search zone to be doubled to 120,000 sq km in May. In addition, thousands of reconnaissance flights were launched, with the combined operation costing more than $100 million — an unprecedented figure.

And so, if confirmed, Wednesday’s discovery of a supposed wing-flap — found 2,500 miles (or the equivalent of the width of the U.S.) from the search zone — would be the first definitive piece of proof that the plane had crashed.

“Malaysia Airlines is working with the relevant authorities to confirm the matter,” the carrier said in an emailed statement. “At the moment, it would be too premature for the airline to speculate the origin of the flaperon.”

2. What’s next?

Proving categorically that the recovered piece came from a Boeing 777. Investigators from the U.S. aviation giant, as well as representatives from Malaysia Airlines, are currently trying to make that call. But should verification prove tricky in tiny Reunion, they may transport the object to specialist labs in France for further examination. (France has jurisdiction to handle evidence found on its territory, though will work with Malaysia, which heads the overall investigation because it involves its flag carrier; Australia has also offered assistance.)

Ideally, they would find a serial number. If there’s a part number that starts with “113W,” then we know it comes from a 777. (A marking “PB670″ was found on the object, revealed Truss, though the significance is so far unknown.)

If the part is confirmed as coming from a 777, experts say there will be little doubt it came from MH370. “Our goal, along with the entire global aviation industry, continues to be not only to find the airplane but also to determine what happened — and why,” said Boeing in a statement Wednesday.

3. So have we been searching in the wrong place all this time?

Not at all. In the almost 17 months since the plane vanished, debris could feasibly have drifted anywhere around the globe. Certainly, the buffeting South Atlantic Gyre could have swept a flaperon from Western Australia to Reunion.

“The information that we have is consistent with the search that’s being undertaken at the present time,” Truss told reporters. “It supports the satellite data and the identification of the area in the southern Indian Ocean as the likely place where the aircraft could have entered the water.

However, if confirmed, additional searches of islands near Reunion, and the coastlines of nearby Madagascar and East Africa, could also be initiated to try to find more debris.

4. What does it tell us?

If confirmed as a piece from MH370, the most telling initial detail is the size of the debris, which experts say makes a high-velocity nose-dive crash unlikely. Larger objects of this ilk are more common from slower impacts, such as a pilot deliberately plotting a gentle descent.

“It’s an indication that this broke off in some sort of a landing or a spiral down from altitude as the plane stalled and ran out of fuel,” Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told CNN.

But even the attached barnacles could tell an important story, given that there are over 1,000 different species throughout the oceans dependent on myriad environmental factors.

5. What’s the legal significance?

Very little. Under the Montreal Convention, litigation against an airline must take place within two years of a disaster. This is still the time frame that lawyers representing the victims’ families are working within. But Malaysia Airlines has already accepted responsibility and declared that the missing plane was “lost.”

Compensation has already been announced, although the amount could be challenged. However, as an airline has a “strict liability” to deliver passengers to a destination, the cause of the crash — pilot suicide, pilot error, hijacking, etc. — only has limited significance.

“The cause may not matter vis-à-vis the airline regarding what their duties and responsibilities are to pay compensation,” Brian Alexander, a lawyer specializing in aviation litigation for Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, which is representing 48 victims’ families, tells TIME. “And I don’t think this one finding would affect our decisionmaking regarding the timing of the filing.”

However, should more wreckage be found to indicate the disaster resulted from a mechanical fault that was not the airline’s fault, additional litigation could theoretically be brought against Boeing.

6. What about the families?

This is where the discovery could be hugely significant. Without debris, conspiracy theories have proliferated, with some suggesting an elaborate heist and that the airplane may have been stashed for reuse in a later terrorist attack, possibly in a disused Soviet-era military runway somewhere near the Caucuses. Many families have refused to give up hope until the plane has definitively been proved as crashed. That time, for better or worse, may soon be upon us.

TIME Aviation

Debris Found in Indian Ocean Could Match Missing Malaysian Jet

The part washed ashore on Wednesday off the coast of Reunion Island

American officials have a “high degree of confidence” that airline debris found on a French Island in the Indian Ocean appears to belong a Boeing 777, the same kind of aircraft as the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

A U.S. official told the Associated Press that air safety investigators identified the part based on a photo of the wreckage. The plane parts were found on Reunion Island, about 380 nautical miles off the coast of Madagascar and about 3,500 miles from where the plane disappeared over the Andaman Sea.

The official told the AP that a team of investigators, which include a Boeing air safety expert, have identified the debris as a “flaperon,” which is typically responsible for controlling the roll or bank of an aircraft. On a Boeing 777, the flaperon would be found along the trailing edge of a 777 wing.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said that his country had sent a team to the island to confirm the identity of the debris.

“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.

A French official confirmed that French law enforcement is on the island for the investigation.

The ongoing search of the seabed is unlikely to change, according to Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, whose agency is heading up the location effort. If the part is from the plane, it would line up with the theory that it crashed within a roughly 46,000 mile area.

Paul R. Bergman, a spokesman for Boeing, referred questions to authorities investigating the incident.

“Our goal, along with the entire global aviation industry, continues to be not only to find the airplane, but also to determine what happened – and why,” he said in a statement.

Flight 370 mysteriously disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board and a multinational effort has been searching for it ever since.

TIME Boeing

Boeing Warns Airlines: Lithium Battery Shipments Are a Fire Hazard

USA - Atlanta: airplane Boeing B777-200LR of Delta Air Lines
ullstein bild—ullstein bild via Getty Images

Could a battery explosion have brought down MH370?

Boeing has warned all passenger airliners that including bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries in their cargo could cause fires that destroy airplanes.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Agency has also confirmed this word of caution, adding in their own statement that tests “conducted on the transport of lithium batteries has indicated that it presents a risk,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are used in cellphones, laptops and many other electronic devices. They are also often flown in the cargo of international airlines. Now, in a guidance sent by Boeing, airlines have been urged to refrain from carrying shipments of the batteries “until safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented,” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder told the AP in an e-mail.

Tests conducted by the FAA over the past year have shown that inflammable gases such as hydrogen are emitted when the batteries short-circuit. They can then cause explosions when ignited, and cause fires that are hard to extinguish. After one such test, the FAA concluded that the “cargo liner is vulnerable to penetration by molten lithium.”

Observers will note that the infamous Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane that went missing last year carried a shipment of 5,400 pounds worth of lithium-ion batteries, as detailed in investigations. That plane, which still has yet to be found, was a Boeing 777 airliner carrying 293 passengers and crew members.

TIME remembrance

The World Marks the First Anniversary of the MH17 Aviation Disaster

One year on, investigations into the tragedy are still ongoing

Friday marks one year since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The Boeing 777 was on route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam when it crashed in pro-Russian rebel-held territory on July 17, 2014.

The Dutch Safety Board is due to release the final report into the cause of the crash in October, reports the BBC. It is widely believed by Kiev and Western nations that Russian-backed rebels shot down the plane. Moscow denies this and instead blames the Ukrainian military.

A criminal probe launched by a joint investigation team consisting of detectives from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine is also ongoing.

A public memorial service was held in Australia’s capital, Canberra, on Friday and a permanent memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the 38 Australians who died.

“In the worst of times you have displayed the strength of giants and the grace of angels and I am humbled by you,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the crowd, which included family members of those who perished. “We owe it to the dead to bring the guilty to justice.”

Memorial events are also being held in Ukraine as well as the Netherlands, from where 193 of the victims hailed.

In Kuala Lumpur, a service was held on July 11, a week before the anniversary as it would otherwise clash with the Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The end goal is clear — to bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure they pay for this unforgivable crime,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement on the eve of the anniversary.

Malaysia is leading calls from several countries for a U.N. tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing the flight. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected establishing an international tribunal, saying it would be counterproductive.

Meanwhile, a new video obtained by News Corp. Australia purports to show the rebels filming themselves ransacking the luggage of passengers from MH17.

In the footage, men appear to believe they have come across the wreck of a Ukrainian fighter jet but minutes later realize the aircraft is a commercial liner.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the video was “sickening to watch.”

Warning: The video contains graphic content that some viewers may find distressing

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Jet Makes Emergency Landing in Melbourne After Reports of Engine Fire

Passengers have disembarked and no injuries have been reported

A Malaysia Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Melbourne on Friday afternoon after reports of an engine fire, the Australian city’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade says.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reported that 300 passengers were on board Flight MH 148 bound for Kuala Lumpur and that the plane first dumped its fuel, then made an emergency landing at Melbourne Airport around 3:00pm.

The BBC noted that route-tracking websites showed the plane circling the airport multiple times.

Melbourne Airport said via Twitter the plane landed safely, although it could not confirm the reason for MH 148’s grounding. After it landed, the plane was towed to a gate and passengers were allowed to disembark. Paramedics at the scene have not yet had to treat anyone.

[ABC]

TIME Research

FAA Will Study Pilots’ Mental Health

A committee will provide recommendations within six months

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it would study the mental and emotional health of pilots, a move that comes more than two months after investigators say a German pilot flew a commercial jet into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

While pilots are required to undergo medical screenings with agency-approved physicians once or twice a year, the study was recommended in the wake of tragedies like the crash Germanwings Flight 9525 in March and the early 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

The FAA said in a statement that the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)—to be comprised of government members and aviation experts, as well as medical professionals whose specialty is aerospace medicine—will look into awareness and reporting practices for emotional and mental issues among pilots. The committee, which will also probe the procedures used to evaluate mental health issues and any barriers to reporting them, will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months.

“Based on the group’s recommendations,” according to the statement, “the FAA may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for Aerospace Medical Examiners, or potential actions that may be taken by professional, airline, or union groups.”

Read next: German Privacy Laws Let Pilot ‘Hide’ His Illness From Employers

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Begins a Huge Makeover, but First Lays Off a Third of Its Workforce

A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.
Joshua Paul—AP A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.

Airline bets on total transformation to help it overcome the legacy of 2014's two air disasters

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) reassured customers Monday that operations would continue as normal as the airline is restructured into a new company and undergoes an overhaul of its brand.

“You can continue to make reservations in full confidence that our flights and schedules are operating as normal, that tickets sold will be honored,” recently appointed CEO Christoph Mueller said in a statement.

The beleaguered airline has struggled to repair its image after two high-profile air disasters last year — the disappearance of MH370 in March and the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine in July. (Malaysian aviation took a further battering in December, when AirAsia Flight 8501, operated by the Indonesian affiliate of Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 on board.)

MAS’ overhaul includes laying off between 6,000 to 8,000 employees — about one-third of its 20,000 workforce — and hiring a senior administrator to oversee the transfer of assets and liabilities into the new company, Malaysia Airlines Berhad, by September.

“All employees will get the termination letters and either a letter to join the new company, or to register … [for] outplacement,” a company spokesperson told CNN.

Last year, Malaysia Airlines was pulled from the stock exchange and taken over by the Malaysian government’s strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional, which came up with a $1.66 billion restructuring plan.

CEO Mueller, who was hired from Irish carrier Aer Lingus, took the top job on May 1 and told Reuters the new company would be like a “startup.”

“It’s not a continuation of the old company in a new disguise, everything is new,” he said.

But Malaysia Airlines was incurring losses prior to 2014 and had costs 20% higher than other rival airlines. Add not one but two disasters within four months of each other, with a still missing plane, and the restructure may not be enough to repair the damage to its brand and Malaysian aviation in general.

“Those two losses have compounded an already difficult and uneconomic situation,” Jason Middleton, head of the School of Aviation at the University of New South Wales, Australia, tells TIME. He adds that while Malaysia Airlines can argue that the loss of MH17 was not its fault, poor communication from the airline and the government have probably tarnished its reputation regardless.

“Cheap seats and a convenient schedule will still bring passengers to use [Malaysia Airlines],” Middleton says. He adds that selling off old aircraft and trimming down the route network “will help their bottom line, but perhaps not sufficiently that they will stop the losses.”

One of the biggest challenges the airline faces is recovering the public’s confidence. “Air disasters can play a big part in the economic impact of the airline but also the psyche of the traveling public,” Michael Daniel, an international aviation-safety consultant, tells TIME.

Daniel suggests that the airline keep an eye on the emergence of the ASEAN single aviation market, which is expected to liberalize air travel between member states. In the meantime, MAS will simply have to be patient.

“I suspect that the many of the public will take a while to forget, and that there is little they can do except wait and hope that there is not another accident,” says Middleton.

TIME Aviation

MH370 Search Uncovers Shipwreck in Indian Ocean

The Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield is departing Rockingham, Australia for the MH370 search area on May 10, 2014.
Paul Kane—Getty Images The Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield is departing Rockingham, Australia for the MH370 search area on May 10, 2014.

The discovery is "of potential interest, but unlikely to be related to MH370"

The painstaking search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has finally found wreckage on the ocean floor — just not the wreckage it was looking for.

The Australian government, which is coordinating the multi-million-dollar search, announced Wednesday it had found a previously uncharted shipwreck almost 13,000 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Investigators’ hopes were raised when the Fugro Equator, one of the ships tasked with looking for the aircraft, detected “a cluster of small sonar contacts,” according to an update from the Australian government’s Joint Agency Coordination Center.

Although analysis found these findings were “of potential interest, but…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Aviation

Why We Should Stop Looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

A man walks past graffiti depicting flight MH370 on the one year anniversary of its disappearance in Kuala Lumpur
Olivia Harris—Reuters A man walks past graffiti depicting the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 on the one year anniversary of its disappearance in Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2015

One aviation expert tells TIME that resources would be better spent elsewhere

On Thursday, officials announced that the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 would be doubled to 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq. mi.) if the errant aircraft is not discovered in the southern Indian Ocean by May.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he was “committed to the search,” while his Australian counterpart Warren Truss said, “We are confident we are searching in the right area.” (Australia is coordinating efforts as the nearest nation to the presume crash site.)

However, it has been over 13 months since the Boeing 777 vanished on March 8 last year soon after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board. The subsequent search operation is by far the most expensive ever attempted, already costing Australia and Malaysia over $90 million, yet not a scrap of debris has been found.

Extending the search is thought to entail spending an additional $40 million.

Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, tells TIME that it is hard to justify expanded efforts.

“I’m not in the position of being one of the relatives, and I deeply sympathize with their situation,” he stressed. “However, once the areas of highest priority have been searched there are diminishing returns when increasing the area.

“This means there’s a huge amount of money being spent, and if you’re looking at saving lives through improving future safety outcomes, then the money is arguably much better spent in a whole variety of other areas rather than just ‘mowing the lawn’ in the ocean trying to find something.”

For families of passengers, two-thirds of whom were Chinese, finding out what happened to their loved ones is naturally of paramount importance. But there is also a feeling that their loss will not have been in vain if the safety of future flights can be improved.

“It’s necessary to find the plane, not only for the lives that have been lost, but also for the safety of future passengers and crews,” Jennifer Chong, whose husband Chong Ling Tan was on board MH370, tells TIME. “The money will not be wasted.”

Jennifer Chong says she hopes that officials will also consider going back to the drawing board and consider other theories that suggest the plane might have gone down somewhere other than the current search site.

“We do hope that they will explore other areas,” says Chong.

Middleton is of the opinion that “this was most probably some kind of suicide [similar to Germanwings].” He explains that “it’s very unlikely it was a totally mechanical set of failures. We’ll never know what’s behind the brain of the person who caused the crash, so in terms of ongoing safety ramifications, the search seems likely to yield very little.”

The sudden decision to increase the search also seems curious, given that officials had earlier dropped hints about scaling back efforts. Despite Truss’s “confidence” on Thursday, only last month he conceded, “We clearly cannot keep searching forever,” amid rumors that the operation was to be called off within weeks.

“It’s been highly politicized from the start, as seen by the dribbling of information from the Malaysian government,” says Middleton. “Had the correct information been released earlier, it might well have resulted in a much smaller search area, as the question of whether the aircraft flew low or high early on has an impact on fuel consumption, hence how far the airplane may have been able to fly into the southern [Indian] Ocean.”

Compounding matters, the current search area is based almost entirely on satellite-data analysis from British telecommunications firm Inmarsat. This tracked a series of maintenance pings using groundbreaking analysis techniques as MH370’s own secondary radar was disabled in the cockpit. However, corroborating the Inmarsat data is impossible, meaning the search could be taking place in entirely the wrong place.

“The total lack of debris is a puzzle,” says Middleton. “And the Inmarsat information cannot be tested by intelligent and capable people because they do not have access to the proprietary information from Inmarsat.”

He adds: “The Inmarsat stuff is untestable. And although I’m not suggesting they’ve done anything improper, the search area relies very much on their calculations, and if they have made errors, we are not able to replicate their calculations. And there’s a chance they’ve stuffed up and the plane is not there at all.”

With reporting by David Stout / Hong Kong

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