Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet.

QZ8501 (AirAsia)

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Germanwings crash co-pilot hid illness from airline

Yahoo – AFP, Celine Jankowiak with Deborah Cole in Berlin, 27 March 2015

French gendarmes and investigators sift through the scattered debris on March 26, 
2015 at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps above
the southeastern town of Seyne (AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

The black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass murder.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that "everything is pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

German prosecutors revealed that searches of Lubitz's homes netted "medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment", including "torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash".

A police officer pictured outside the apartment 
of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of the crashed
 Germanwings plane, in Duesseldorf, western
 Germany, on March 26, 2015 (AFP Photo/
Federico Gambarini)
They did not specify the illness.

But Bild daily earlier reported that Lubitz sought psychiatric help for "a bout of serious depression" in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors, quoting documents from Germany's air transport regulator.

The paper also cited security sources as saying that Lubitz and his girlfriend were having a "serious crisis in their relationship" that left him distraught.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, "for a certain period", before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013.

According to Bild, those setbacks were linked to "depression and anxiety attacks".

Lubitz lived with his parents in his small home town of Montabaur in the Rhineland and kept an apartment in Duesseldorf, the city where his doomed plane was bound.

Duesseldorf prosecutors said the evidence found in the two homes "backs up the suspicion" that Lubitz "hid his illness from his employer and his colleagues".

They said they had not found a suicide note, confession or anything pointing to a "political or religious" motive but added it would take "several days" to evaluate the rest of what was collected.

Reiner Kemmler, a psychologist who specialises in training pilots, noted that people "know that depression can compromise their airworthiness and they can hide it".

"If someone dissimulates, ie they don't want other people to notice, it's very, very difficult," Kemmler told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

Desperate captain used 'axe'

Lubitz locked himself into the cockpit when the captain went out to use the toilet, then refused his colleague's increasingly desperate attempts to get him to reopen the door, French prosecutor Brice Robin said.

According to Bild, the captain even tried using an axe to break through the armoured door as the plane was sent into its fatal descent by Lubitz.

This could not be immediately confirmed, but a spokesman for Germanwings told Bild that an axe was standard emergency equipment on board the aircraft.

A policeman stands next to a police car in
 front of a house in Duesseldorf, western 
Germany, on March 26, 2015, during the
 investigation into the Germanwings 
plane crash over the French Alps 
(AFP Photo/David Young)
The tragedy has already prompted a shake-up of safety rules, with several airlines announcing a new policy requiring there always be two people in the cockpit.

German aviation industry body BDL and the transport ministry agreed to the rule for Lufthansa, its subsidiary Germanwings and other companies, while the European Aviation Security Agency threw its weight behind the policy.

Meanwhile, the UN world aviation body stressed that all pilots must have regular mental and physical check-ups.

'Unimaginable'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the findings that Lubitz appeared intent on crashing the plane added an "absolutely unimaginable dimension" to the tragedy, in which most victims were German and Spanish nationals.

In the northwestern town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers who were returning from a school exchange, the revelations prompted shock and rage.

The principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said "what makes all of us so angry (is) that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people".

German President Joachim Gauck, a Protestant pastor, attended a memorial service in Haltern Friday and also extended special condolences to the families of the victims in Spain and other countries.

Meanwhile in Montabaur, Mayor Edmund Schaaf urged reporters encamped in the community to show restraint with Lubitz's parents, a banker and a church organist, who live in a handsome home on a leafy, normally quiet street.

"Regardless of whether the accusations against the co-pilot are true, we sympathise with his family and ask the media to be considerate," he said.

A French gendarmerie helicopter winches up an investigator on March 26, 2015 near
scattered debris on the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French
Alps above the southeastern town of Seyne (AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

Descent button

Investigators say Lubitz's intention was clear because he operated a button sending the plane into a plunge.

For the next eight minutes, Lubitz was apparently calm and breathing normally.

"He does not say a single word. Total silence," Robin said.

The second-in-command had all psychological tests required for training, Lufthansa's Spohr told reporters Thursday, insisting: "He was 100-percent airworthy."

Recovery operations at the crash site were ongoing, with French officials trying to find body parts and evidence. A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

"There's not much plane debris left. There's mainly a lot of body parts to pick up. The operation could last another two weeks," said police spokesman Xavier Vialenc.

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Russian air controllers charged for Polish presidential jet disaster

Yahoo – AFP, 27 March 2015

The Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 went down in thick fog while approaching
 Smolensk airport in western Russia killing 96, including then president Lech
Kaczynski, his wife, the central bank head and military chief of staff among
others (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

Warsaw (AFP) - Pilot error was to blame for the 2010 crash of a Polish presidential jet in Russia, but two Russian air traffic controllers also triggered the disaster that killed Poland's then head of state, prosecutors in Warsaw said Friday.

The aircraft went down in thick fog while approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia killing 96, including then president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the central bank head and military chief of staff among others.

One of the Russian controllers charged with "being directly responsible for having endangered air traffic... while the other is charged with unintentionally causing an air traffic disaster," Warsaw's chief military prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag told reporters.

He said Poland would take steps to bring the two unnamed Russian citizens to justice, but declined to provide any further details.

The prosecutor presented a minute-by-minute expert analysis of the events leading up to the crash, regarded as Poland's worst peacetime disaster.

Russia has so far refused to hand over the plane's wreckage to Polish authorities, insisting its investigation into the disaster is ongoing.

Warsaw has extended its investigation until October 10.

Many high-profile Poles died when the Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 airliner went down in thick fog April 10, 2010, while approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia.

The delegation was en route to memorial ceremonies in Katyn for thousands of Polish army officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940, a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pilot locked out of cockpit before mystery French Alps crash

Yahoo – AFP, Marc Burleigh and Delphine Touitou in Paris, 26 March 2015

A French Gendarmeri helicopter flies over an air base in Seyne-les-Alpes on 
March 26, 2015 as the search operation following the Germanwings plane crash
resumes (AFP Photo/Boris Horvat)

Seyne-les-Alpes (France) (AFP) - One of the pilots on the doomed Germanwings flight was locked out of the cockpit shortly before the plane crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, a source told AFP, raising new questions for investigators trying to make sense of the tragedy.

The news came as families and friends of victims began arriving in France to travel to the remote mountainous crash site area, where locals have opened their doors in a show of solidarity with the grieving relatives.

Cockpit recordings from one of the plane's black boxes indicated that a seat was pushed back, then the door opened and closed. Later, knocking is heard, said the source close to the probe, adding "there was no more conversation from that point until the crash".

Buses carrying family members of the 
victims of the Germanwings plane crash
 are escorted by police in Marignane on
 March 26, 2015 before heading to the
 area of the crash in the Alps (AFP 
Photo/Franck Pennant)
The source, who asked not to be identified, said an alarm indicating proximity to the ground could be heard before the moment of impact.

All 150 people on board flight 4U 9525, including two babies and 16 German school exchange pupils, died when the Airbus A320 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf smashed into the mountains after an eight-minute descent.

There was no distress signal from the plane and the crew failed to respond to ground control's desperate attempts to make contact.

The cockpit recording showed the pilots speaking normally in German at the start of the flight, the source said, adding that it could not be determined if it was the captain or the first officer who left the cockpit. A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

The New York Times cited a senior military official involved in the investigation as saying the cockpit black box recording indicated one pilot tried unsuccessfully to bash his way back in to the cockpit.

"The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer," the investigator told the newspaper. "And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer."

He continued: "You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

'Unconscious or dead'

Germanwings told AFP: "Only a pilot inside the cockpit can unlock the door."

Employees of the German airline Lufthansa
 and subsidiary Germanwings mourn the 
victims of the Germanwings plane crash 
at Duesseldorf airport on March 26, 
2015 (AFP Photo/Patrik Stollarz)
But its spokesperson refused to either confirm or deny "for security reasons" whether there was any way to open the door from outside, perhaps with an access code.

They confirmed the existence of a video surveillance system that allows the pilot to see who is trying to enter the cockpit.

Germanwings' parent company Lufthansa said the co-pilot had been working for them since September 2013 and had 630 hours of flight experience. The pilot had more than 10 years experience and 6,000 hours flying time.

However, neither pilot has been identified yet.

Authorities say the plane was flying right until the moment of impact and that there was no mid-air explosion.

The French interior minister has said that terrorism is not considered likely. However, aviation experts say the mystery remains wide open.

"If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die," one expert told AFP.

Debris from the Germanwings Airbus A320
is seen strewn over the crash site in the
 French Alps above the southeastern
 town of Seyne-les-Alps (AFP Photo)
Earlier, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr called the incident "inexplicable".

"The plane was in perfect condition and the two pilots were experienced," he said.

The prosecutor for the southern city of Marseille, who is leading the judicial enquiry, was due to brief reporters at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT).

Grieving families gather

Meanwhile, two planes arrived in southern France on Thursday from Barcelona and Duesseldorf with families and friends of victims.

They were due to meet the prosecutor before heading by bus to the hamlet close to the crash site.

Tents were set up for them to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the bodies of loved ones, at least 51 of whom were Spaniards and at least 72 Germans.

The remains of victims, found scattered across the scree-covered slopes, were being taken by helicopter to nearby Seyne-les-Alpes, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

A mountain guide who got near the crash site said he was unable to make out recognisable body parts.

A member of the French Red Cross waits
 to greet the families of victims of the 
Germanwings Airbus A320 at a support 
centre set up in Digne-les-Bains on March
25, 2015 (AFP Photo/Pascal Guyot)
"It's incredible. An Airbus is enormous. When you arrive and there's nothing there... it's very shocking," said the guide, who did not wish to be identified.

The crash site, which is situated at about 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) altitude, is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the site to see the devastation for themselves Wednesday. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also visited a crisis centre near the scene.

It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Lufthansa said the aircraft was carrying citizens of 18 countries. Three Americans and three Britons were confirmed among the victims.

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Morocco also had nationals on board, according to officials.






Thursday, March 26, 2015

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

Yahoo - AFP, Daniel Ortelli and Marc Burleigh, 25 March 2015

French President Francois Hollande (3rd left), German Chancellor Angela 
Merkel (centre) and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (2nd right) arrive 
at Seyne-les-Alpes on March 25, 2015, near the site where a German airliner
crashed in the French Alps (AFP Photo/Jeff Pachoud)

Seyne-les-Alpes (France) (AFP) - The leaders of France, Germany and Spain visited a makeshift rescue base near the Germanwings air crash site Wednesday, as investigators ramped up their probe into the mysterious disaster that killed 150.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the crash site to see the devastation for themselves before meeting rescue workers outside the crisis centre set up on Tuesday after the worst crash in France in four decades.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also visited the centre to be briefed on the gruelling rescue operation in difficult mountain terrain where Flight 4U9525 crashed early Tuesday, scattering debris over a wide area.

France's investigators have recovered
 the cockpit voice recorder from the 
doomed Germanwings flight but say it
 was badly damaged in the crash (AFP
Photo)
Buffeted by strong mountain winds, the ashen-faced leaders spent several minutes inspecting a line-up of blue-uniformed rescue workers, chatting intently with the help of interpreters.

"My deepest sympathies with the families and all my thanks for the friendship of the people of this region and in France," wrote Merkel in a book of condolence.

Hollande wrote: "Tribute to the victims. Support to the families."

Grieving families were also gathering near the crash site, where a counselling unit has been established.

Meanwhile, investigators were combing through the pulverised wreckage and examining its badly damaged black box for clues as to what caused the mysterious crash.

Hundreds of firefighters and police were involved in the massive task at the rugged crash site, accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.

And in Paris, experts analysed one of the plane's black boxes, hoping to discover why the Airbus A320 went down in good weather -- an "inexplicable" disaster according to Lufthansa, the budget airline's parent company.

Photos issued by the BEA air crash investigation office showed the mangled orange "black box", its metal casing torn and twisted by the violence of the impact.

Officials warned it would take several days to analyse the "very badly damaged" cockpit voice recorder, but hoped it might offer initial clues to the mystery later Wednesday.

'Horrendous' scene

A woman reads a book of condolence for 
the victims of the Germanwings plane crash
 at the Berliner Dom cathedral on March 25,
2015 (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)
A second black box, recording technical flight data, has yet to be found.

Authorities are scrambling to explain why the plane suddenly began a fatal eight-minute descent shortly after reaching cruising altitude on its route between Barcelona and Duesseldorf.

No distress signal was sent and the crew failed to respond to desperate attempts at contact from ground control.

"It is inexplicable," Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr said in Frankfurt.

"The plane was in perfect condition and the two pilots were experienced."

Officials in Spain said at least 49 Spaniards had been killed in the accident, and Germanwings said at least 72 Germans were dead.

French police set up road blocks near the crash site, ordering all non-official vehicles to turn around, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Just beyond lay a steep and broken landscape littered with the shattered pieces of what was Flight 4U9525.

"It's a zone that is very difficult to access, very slippery. There was rain and snow overnight. So we need to secure the zone before the investigators begin their work," a spokesman for the French interior ministry, Pierre-Henry Brandet, told reporters.

"We are not in a race against time," he said. "We need to move forward methodically."

The plane was "totally destroyed," a local member of parliament who flew over the site said, describing the scene as "horrendous."

A helicopter flies over the crash site 
of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the 
French Alps (AFP Photo/Francis Pellier)
"The biggest body parts we identified are no bigger than a briefcase," one investigator said.

'Darkest day'

More than 300 policemen and 380 firefighters have been assigned the grisly task of searching the site.

The plane was carrying six crew and 144 passengers, including 16 German teenagers returning home from a school trip.

Their high school in the small German town of Haltern was to hold a memorial event Wednesday to honour the victims.

"This is certainly the darkest day in the history of our city," said a tearful Bodo Klimpel, the town's mayor. "It is the worst thing you can imagine."

"Yesterday we were many, today we are alone," read a hand-painted sign at the school, decorated with 16 crosses -- one for each of the victims, most of whom were around 15 years old.

Opera singers Oleg Bryjak, 54, and Maria Radner, 33, were also on board, flying to their home city of Duesseldorf. Radner was travelling with her husband and baby, one of two infants on board the plane.

Condolence messages for the victims 
of the Germanwings plane crash are laid at 
a memorial at Duesseldorf airport in western
 Germany, on March 25, 2015 (AFP Photo/
Federico Gambarini)
In Spain, meanwhile, a minute's silence was observed at noon at countless points around the country, including both houses of parliament in Madrid and public offices.

As the probe gathered pace, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said investigators were not focusing on the possibility it was a terrorist attack.

Germanwings, the growing low-cost subsidiary of the prestigious Lufthansa carrier, had an unblemished safety record.

Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, French weather officials said.

It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Victims were also confirmed from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the United States, according to officials.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

AirAsia Crash Victims Remembered at Ceremony in Central Kalimantan

Jakarta Globe, Mar 22, 2015

Victims of the AirAsia QZ8501 accident were commemorated in Central
Kalimantan on Sunday. (Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru)

Jakarta. Family members who lost loved when AirAsia Flight QZ8501 plunged into the Java Sea in December last year gathered for a remembrance ceremony at Kumai Bay in Central Kalimantan on Sunday.

Tears and tributes flowed as people remembered those onboard the Airbus A320-200, which vanished from radar screens on Dec. 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore. All 162 people onboard died.

The search for the victims bodies was finally called off on Tuesday and Sunday’s event served as a final send off from AirAsia Indonesia and the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).

Basarnas chief Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo led a military ceremony before the group, which also included military officers and AirAsia Indonesia staff.

The commemoration continued with a scattering of flower petals and a prayer session. A traditional ceremony called Tepuk Tepung Tawar, which is meant to ward off bad luck, followed.

“I’ve fully accepted this. I pray that my daughter finds peace with God,” said Rohana, mother of Khairunnisa Haidar Fauzi, one of the stewardesses on the flight. “This memorial means a lot to me. I’m very thankful to Basarnas for having found my daughter’s body.”

Sunu Widyatmoko, president director of AirAsia Indonesia, said the memorial showed the airline’s concern and sympathy tow the vitims’ families.

“We’re distraught that we have been unable to find all the bodies from the accident,”Sunu said. “This marks the end of our search effort with Basarnas.”

A total of 56 bodies are still missing.

Hainan Airlines marks China's first passenger flight with biofuel

Want ChinaTimes, Xinhua 2015-03-22

The Boeing 737 is loaded with biofuel before the flight from Shanghai Hongqiao
International Airport, March 21. (Photo/Xinhua)

Hainan Airlines announced on Saturday it has completed China's first passenger flight with sustainable biofuel, a milestone for the country's commercial aviation industry.

The flight, which carried more than 100 passengers from Shanghai to Beijing in a Boeing 737, used biofuel made by Sinopec from waste cooking oil collected from restaurants in China.

The airplane's two engines were powered by the fuel blended of approximately half biofuel and half traditional jet fuel, the company said.

"We are honored to see our flight with safe and effective biofuel," said Pu Ming, vice president of Hainan Airlines, also the flight's pilot.

Boeing has been collaborating with Chinese airlines to develop aviation biofuel industry. In 2011, Air China conducted China's first test flight with aviation biofuel in a Boeing 747.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Electric cars combat urban heat problem: study

Yahoo – AFP, March 20, 2015

Electric cars combat urban heat problem: study

Paris (AFP) - Electric vehicles are a useful tool for fighting sweaty city summers, according to a study published on Thursday.

Switching from vehicles powered by fossil fuels to plug-in equivalents would ease a phenomenon called urban heat island, it said.

The term describes what happens when city temperatures are driven higher by heat from traffic and air conditioners and by warmth, stored during the day in roads and buildings, which is released at night.

In some places, the buildup combines with a summer heatwave to inflict sweltering discomfort and heat stress.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, specialists in China and the United States said urban heat island creates a vicious circle.

The hotter it is, the more people crank up their air conditioning, which in turn disgorges more heat into the street, and so on.

The team calculated what would happen in Beijing if petrol- and diesel-powered cars and light trucks were replaced by their electric equivalent.

Their simulation was based on the weather in the Chinese capital in the summer of 2012, when the city was three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the surrounding countryside.

Switching vehicles would have caused this to fall by 0.94 C (1.7 F), according to their model.

"Heatwaves kill, and in terms of climate change, even one degree can make a difference," said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, who took part in the study.

The theoretical switch would also save the city 14.4 million Kilowatt-hours in electricity each day -- the daily equivalent of 10,686 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The calculation took into account heat from the extra fossil fuel that would have had to be burned at local power plants to charge the electric cars.

Electric vehicles emit only about a fifth of the heat of conventional cars.

"The replacement can mitigate heat island intensity, which can reduce the amount of electricity consumed daily by air conditions, benefitting the local and global climate," the study said.

The researchers sounded a note of caution, pointing out that urban heat island has a basket of factors, some of which are sketchy.

Particulate pollution, city layout, building design, energy efficiency and parks are also believed to play a part in worsening or mitigating it.

The computer simulation focused only temperature change and energy savings.

It was not designed to factor in the cost of introducing electric vehicles and their charging infrastructure, nor did it estimate the health benefits from less pollution.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

UK's first 'poo bus' goes into regular service

Bio-Bus fuelled by human and household waste, which first ran between Bristol and Bath, will operate 15-mile route four days a week

The Guardian, Press Association, Sunday 15 March 2015

Bristol’s Bio Bus runs on faeces and household waste. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Britain’s first “poo bus”, which runs on human and household waste, goes into regular service later this month.

Powered by biomethane gas, the Bio-Bus will use waste from more than 32,000 households along its 15-mile route.

Operated by First West of England, the bus will fill up at a site in Avonmouth, Bristol, where sewage and inedible food waste is turned into biomethane gas.

The bus, which can seat up to 40 people, was unveiled last autumn. First is showing the bus in Bristol on Tuesday before it starts operating four days a week from 25 March.

If the route is successful, First will consider introducing more “poo buses”. The managing director, James Freeman, said: “Since its original unveiling last year, the Bio-Bus has generated worldwide attention and so it’s our great privilege to bring it to the city.

“The Bio-Bus previously made an appearance running between Bath and Bristol airport at the end of last year, but it’s only actually been used once before in the centre of Bristol itself.

“The very fact that it’s running in the city should help to open up a serious debate about how buses are best fuelled, and what is good for the environment.”

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Malaysia Airlines towelette packet washes up on Australian beach

Want China Times, Xinhua and Staff Reporter 2015-03-10

Cards hanging from a wishing tree express prayers for the passengers on
board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at a ceremony in Kuala
Lumpur on April 6, 2014, a month after the plane disappeared. (File photo/Xinhua)

Investigators searching for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 have been sent an unwrapped towelette packet that was found on the shores of a beach in Western Australia.

The packet, bearing the Malaysian Airlines logo, may hold clues to the whereabouts of the aircraft which went missing over a year ago and is believed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

A retired couple found the packet and immediately sent it to local police, who on Tuesday delivered it to the offices of the Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC) in Canberra.

The JACC has refused to release a photo of the package however and is distancing itself from reports that it may be a significant discovery. Instead, the JACC has suggested that it is "unlikely" to be linked with the missing aircraft.

Cervantes beach in Western Australia, where the packet was found, is around 220 kilometers from Fremantle and 1,850 kilometers from the main search area in the southern Indian Ocean. However, experts have previously stated that floating objects from the plane could travel long distances without being damaged.

Last Sunday represented the one-year anniversary of the plane's disappearance en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with all 239 passengers on board still unaccounted for, the majority of them Chinese nationals.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A year after MH370, Chinese aircraft maker unveils better black box

Want China Times, Xinhua 2015-03-08

A COMAC booth at the 15th China International Industry Fair in
Shanghai. (File photo/CFP)

In the event of a test model plane crash, an emergency recorder and tracking system is separated from the tail section of the plane.

The test, which is shown in a video clip, is part of a series of tests run since October by the US subsidiary of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) on a comprehensive emergency information recorder and tracking system.

COMAC America Corporation says its emergency recorder system includes a data storage device and transmitter called Harbinger. It claims it has been applying new methods that transcend traditional designs of black box recorders used in commercial aircraft.

The yearlong searching effort for Malaysia Airlines' missing flight MH370 has turned up with no sign of the plane, but it has fueled the company's resolve to come up with a more efficient system.

Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 passengers and crew on board. So far no trace has been found despite a massive surface and underwater hunt, in what has become one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history.

The search continues to be jointly carried out by Australia, Malaysia and China over vast swaths of the Indian Ocean some 1,600 kilometers off Australia's west coast, with four ships using sophisticated sonar systems to scour a huge underwater area.

The protracted search for the missing plane's black boxes, or the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, are presenting new demands for aviation security and rescue. Major aircraft makers of the world continue to contribute to black box technologies.

A traditional black box emits distress signals for 30 days after sinking with the plane. It stores 30-minutes of cockpit voice conversation and two hours of flight data before the crash.

However, when the plane crashes and goes down at sea, the sonar signal emitted from the black box only transmits several kilometers, therefore requiring a rather definitive search area, which is often difficult in sea crashes.

If the black box becomes covered in seabed sludge (or heavy snow, in the case of a mountainside crash), distress signals are weak and hard to detect, making it difficult to locate the crash site in a timely manner for rescue.

COMAC America believes that the Harbinger emergency system is a useful supplement to existing black box designs that sink with the plane after a crash.

Engineers of the company say, the Harbinger emergency system is able to capture images of the last few minutes of the plane before it crashes. With the system, the last few minutes of the plane's position, black box data, and video footage is uploaded through cloud technology to a satellite.

The system can also save a copy of the data and is equipped with a parachute and inflation system to enable it to stay afloat at sea. The inflation system can also protect hardware when the Harbinger lands on hard surfaces. It will also transmit distress signals to help rescue teams locate its position.

Based on repeated tests of the system, the video footage of the last few minutes of a plane crash, for instance, offers invaluable insight into the data captured in a traditional black box. The position tracking system and cloud data transmission function also increases the probability of rapid location of the crash site and the survivability of the captured flight data.

"Being able to find the true cause of an air disaster is a crucial step towards improving aircraft designs for safer air travel tomorrow," said Wei Ye, president of COMAC America Corporation told Xinhua. "The Harbinger emergency system will bring revolutionary changes to air rescue and aviation security."

The company has filed a patent application of the Harbinger emergency system with the US Patent and Trademark Office, said Ye, adding that "we believe new models of commercial aircraft in the future will benefit from using this system."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Search team remains hopeful of finding MH370: coordinator

Want China Times, Xinhua 2015-03-08

Family members of the missing passengers hold up paintings at a prayer
event at the Yonghe Temple in Beijing, March 8. (Photo/CNS)

Exactly one year ago, a Malaysia Airlines aircraft took off from Kuala Lumpur airport and disappeared in the darkness of the sky, leaving the world with one of the greatest aviation mysteries in history. Twelve months on, search vessels are working non-stop in the heart of the southern Indian Ocean, hoping to bring an answer to the tragedy.

Four ships, each carrying a crew of 35, are working in 12-hour shifts to scan the ocean floor. Every 45 days, the ships go back to Freemantle in Western Australia to stock up on supplies. It takes them six days of sailing from the search area to Freemantle and another six days to go back.

So far, 26,000 square kilometers of area has been searched and not a single piece of debris has been found.

"I am frustrated like the families. And the rest of the team also. Having said that though, we still have over 50% of the search area to go. We still have a sizable area that we haven't searched. We need to remember that," said Judith Zielke, chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Center for the search of the MH370 (JACC).

That 260,000 square kilometer area includes the 60,000 square kilometer priority search area, which has been set by a group of international experts based on the "handshake" data provided by the satellite provider Inmarsat. The widest feasible search area is 1.1 million square kilometers.

"The wide search area, which is 1.1 million square kilometer, has remained the same since April last year. It's based on original 'handshake' information released by Inmarsat. That's factual information. It shows where the aircraft turned and it turned south. That can't be questioned: it's factual information," Zielke said.

"We are confident the aircraft is in that wide search area of 1.1 million square kilometers. Our challenge is to find where within that huge area. The size and scale of the search is unprecedented. This has not been attempted before. We are talking about an area that ultimately is about two thirds the size of the Australian continent. The area we are searching at the moment is slightly smaller than Tasmania."

The most recent update to the search area were announced in October last year. Since then, more analysis work has been done, Zielke said.

Despite the fact that no debris has been found, the crew on the ships are highly motivated by keeping regular contact with families through the JACC, whose job is to "keep the communications flow."

Zielke said JACC receives emails every day, expressing gratitude for what Australia is doing. Australia committed AU$90 million (US$70.2 million) to the search, of which AU$60 million has been paid directly for vessels and equipment aiding in underwater search activities. Malaysia matched Australia's contribution.

Zielke wouldn't predict what moves would be taken if the search of the remaining half of the priority area is completed in May with no luck, saying it is for the governments of Malaysia, China and Australia to decide, taking into account many possible scenarios.

"You may be aware that Australia recently, through Australian Transport Safety Board, went out with a tender process and ask for the expression of interest from firms around the world to give an indication of what equipment and vessels would be required for a recovery operation. Obviously, that information has been thought to be able to inform decisions for governments in relation to what would be undertaken in a recovery scenario just as we are also planning for decisions on other scenarios moving forward as well."

"At this moment, we are focused on locating in the current priority area. We have over 50% of the area still to be finished. I remain hopeful we can locate the aircraft in that area," she said.

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