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International Governments Collaborate in Search for Missing Malaysian Airliner

  • Amanda Scott

A Vietnam Air Force aircraft AN-26 flies over Con Dao island during a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, March 12, 2014.
Militaries and navies from some 12 nations are working collaboratively in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines passenger plane.

The search, which one aviation expert described as similar to looking for a “needle in a haystack,” is being conducted with the help of more than 40 international ships and at least as many aircraft.

Operations are currently stretching across some 90,000 square kilometers of water, with international forces working in a grid pattern to avoid overlapping efforts.

Sid McGuirk, a professor of Air Traffic Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said the search for the missing airliner is very difficult, calling it “one of the most bizarre sets of circumstances" that he’s ever seen in his career. He says the debris field, if the aircraft did impact on water, would be "significant".

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared early Saturday on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Air traffic controllers from both Malaysia and Vietnam, near where the plane was last seen on radar, said they did not receive any messages from the cockpit alerting them that the plane may have been in trouble.

Independent aerospace consultant John McGraw said "people are under the impression that every airplane, even when its flying across the ocean, is being observed by radar." He noted that it's just not the case. In reality, "radars don't reach that far."

Former Federal Aviation Administration accident investigator Michael Daniel said the Boeing 777 aircraft does have the capability of transmitting its location, altitude and speed back to the airline base through satellite communications. However, he said that there has not been much information coming out of the region regarding the airline's flight following requirements, regarding the frequency in which this information would be relayed.

Experts say it is too early to speculate as to the cause of the suspected crash without the cockpit recorder, but say possible scenarios could include catastrophic failure, sabotage or foul play, or some sort of rare occurrence such as pilot incapacitation.