UK & World News

  • 19 March 2014, 14:08

Missing Plane Mystery 'May Never Be Solved'

An American scientist who led the search for wreckage after the Air France crash in 2009 has said time is running out to find the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Colleen Keller, who helped scour the Atlantic Ocean for flight AF447 after it disappeared en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, said identifying the search area was a major challenge.

She fears the chances of doing the same for the Malaysian airliner are now dwindling.

"We're going to need some significant leads to find it," said Ms Keller, who worked as an analyst for Metron, a scientific consultancy for the US Navy.

"I think the search area is so big. I'm certainly hoping the criminal investigation will yield some motives that will steer us in the right direction."

The breakthrough in the Air France investigation came when US underwater drones discovered the wreckage of the aircraft off the coast of Brazil.

Based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, the unmanned yellow submarines can spend hours underwater scanning the ocean floor.

Working in pairs, the drones dive as low as 6,000 metres below the surface.

The vessels cruise above the ocean floor using a lawnmower-style pattern, moving 10 miles one way and 10 miles back on routes pre-programmed before they are dropped into the sea.

A picture then emerges of the seabed and what is lying on top of it.

It took months of searching in 2010 and 2011, but the drones' eventual discovery allowed divers to salvage the plane's wreckage and, crucially, its black box recorders.

The Air France plane issued emergency signals as it went down and left debris on the surface of the ocean, giving a starting point for the search.

Even so, it took two years before the plane was found.

Oceanographical engineer Mike Purcell, based at Woods Hole, told Sky News the complete lack of information was dampening hopes of discovering answers about the fate of flight MH370.

"It's possible we'll never find out what happened," he said. "I think there are just so many unknowns right now."

The Remus 6000 subs could be the best chance of solving the mystery.

For now, they lie on harnesses in port, as operators wait for crucial clues about where to begin their search.

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