USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

The Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Search for Flight MH730
The mystery surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has continued to haunt searchers – an international contingent of experienced rescuers and scientists who have been persistently seeking answers on behalf of victim’s families, the airline itself and a concerned public. The cartography of the search is of particular interest – understanding the obstacles searchers come up against as they have searched for answers is key to understanding why the aircraft has not yet been found.

MH370’s disappearance is perhaps one of the biggest cartographic and scientific jigsaw puzzles of the 21st century. Let’s take a look at the timeline, and how cartography and science have come together since March 2014, when the plane disappeared between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

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The Search for MH370 – a Timeline

March 8, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, disappeared with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

March 11, 2014

Chinese officials announce they’ll use military satellites, capable of capturing high-resolution images of the suspected crash area, to aid in search efforts.

March 20, 2014

U.S. military satellites return images of two unidentifiable objects in the Indian Ocean approximately 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth, Australia. Preliminary analysis suggests the objects could be associated with MH370.

March 21, 2014

The U.S. Navy deploys its “sub-hunting equipment” with sonobuoys capable of listening for signals from an aircraft’s black boxes. It has Magnetic Anomaly Detection materials capable of locating metallic objects on the ocean bed.

March 24, 2014

A report detailing how satellites calculated MH370’s southern flight corridor by measuring the length of “pings” between the aircraft and the ground station sent to the satellites is released.

The calculations accounted for MH370’s velocity in relation to the satellite and the related signal frequency change, known as the Doppler Effect.

Referred to as “handshakes” in the report, a ground station sends pings to an aircraft when the station does not record any activity from the plane within an hour. With MH370, the ground station recorded only six “handshakes” from the time the plane took off until the time the aircraft’s communications system stopped transmitting messages.

April 16, 2014

An unmanned submarine descends more than 4,000 meters in the southern Indian Ocean, scanning for any signs of wreckage from MH370. The sub uses sonar cartographic mapping.

June 17, 2014

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau contracts surveying firm Fugro and a Chinese naval vessel to survey a 59,570 square kilometer search zone of the southern Indian Ocean. The team will map the ocean floor’s depth, geography, and physical make-up to ensure the most appropriate equipment deploys for the search’s next phase.

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