MH370: Search for wreckage 'worst nightmare', says academic

JOHOR BARU - The search for the wreckage of MH370 in the Indian Ocean has been described as the "worst nightmare" for any rescue operation.

University Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) professor for hydrography and ocean mapping Prof Dr Mohd Razali Mahmud said the region was not only isolated, but also has high waves, swift under currents and strong winds.

"Some of the waves can be as high as five metres, and this will be a huge challenge for any salvage operation," Dr Mohd, who is from the Faculty of Geo-Information and Real Estate said on Tuesday.

He added even commercial vessels avoided using this route due to the challenges and dangers.

Dr Mohd said that the most important thing to do now was to narrow the search area to locate the wreckage or the black box, which holds the key to solving this mystery.

He added that it was important for search vessels to be equipped with a multi-beam sonar system to scan the ocean bed to locate the wreckage.

"I just hope that the wreckage is lying on a flat area as a search operation becomes complicated if it (wreckage) is lodged in a ravine or a mountainous area," he said, adding that the topography of an ocean was similar to how it is on land with ravines and mountains.

Dr Mohd said that remote operating vehicles (ROV) or Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) could be deployed to carry out salvage works once the wreckage was discovered as these depths of 4,000m to 7,000m were too deep for any diver.

He added that the government could get the assistance of companies involved in the oil and gas sector or off-shore survey companies, which have such equipment, to lay cables or even for drilling activities in the ocean.

Asked if Malaysia had capabilities to carry out a search in the area, Dr Mohd, who has been studying oceans for 20 years, said that the Malaysian navy's multi-beam sonar was only able to search in areas of about 1,000m.

He said it was of important to locate the black box as once the batteries die out after 30 days, it would be next to impossible to locate it.

"We have limited time of about 12 days and effort should be made to go all out to locate the black box using all available resources," he added.

Asked about the chances of survival for anyone, if the plane had crash-landed on water during an emergency landing, he said that the area was very remote and it would be impossible to survive under such hard conditions in a life raft for 18 days

On the debris, Dr Mohd added that the swift currents could easily wash them off several hundred kilometres away.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu School of Marine Science and Environment dean Prof Dr Zulfigar Yasin said using sonar to locate anything below the ocean would be difficult as very few sonar equipment are able to reach depths of up to 8,000m.

Dr Zulfigar added that the Indian Ocean has some of the roughest sea conditions in the world.

"The last position of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth.

"The area is not within the normal shipping lane, and most oceanic traffic occur further up north," he said.

Dr Zulfigar also said the weather, atmospheric conditions and surface conditions of the ocean would affect search and rescue efforts, which would be "more than finding a needle in a haystack".