Math wizards stand ready to join Malaysia Airlines search

Math wizards stand ready to join Malaysia Airlines search

RESTON, United States - Math wizards who pinpointed the final resting place of a doomed Air France jet deep beneath the Atlantic stand ready to do so again for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

 

No one has yet asked Metron, a scientific consulting firm, to join the search for the missing Boeing 777, but that hasn't stopped it from getting a head start, using the few nuggets of data currently in the public domain.

"We're trying to get our hands on all the publicly available data so we can start doing an independent assessment," Van Gurley, head of Metron's advanced mathematics applications division, told AFP on Wednesday.

As that assessment evolves, "we'll provide it to anyone who's interested," added Gurley at Metron's head office in Reston, Virginia, a suburb of Washington.

Founded in 1982, with a staff of 170 that includes experts in applied mathematicians, Metron conducts highly specialised mathematical analysis for US national security applications, such as sonar systems.

But it has also developed a much-used search and rescue protocol for the US Coast Guard based on a theorem developed by early 18th century English statistician, philosopher and Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes.

"It's a structured method that forces you to look at all the available information about a problem and then apply a confidence factor - how confident you are in any piece of information," Gurley said.

No single bit of data is ever thrown away, but as information is confirmed over time - say, when a speck in a satellite image turns out to be genuine debris - the probability that the target item is in a given spot evolves.

In the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 with 228 on board, the target was its flight data recorder lying at the bottom of the ocean.

The French air accident investigation agency BEA turned to Metron to figure out the most likely spot where the so-called black box might be - successfully, it turned out when undersea drones recovered it in May 2011.

In that case, however, floating debris from the Airbus A330 had been located within a week and the search area was limited to a circle about 80 miles (130 kilometers) in diameter, Gurley said.

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