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MH370’s Beacon of Hope

MELBOURNE – The harrowing mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard, may be at least partly resolved within a matter of days. Underwater search vehicles are homing in on an area just a few kilometers wide in the vastness of the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,000 kilometers northwest of Perth.

This is where the Boeing 777-200 is likely to have run out of fuel and crashed, according to the analysis by the UK company Inmarsat and British aviation experts of hourly signals sent automatically from the aircraft to Inmarsat’s orbiting space vehicle. More promising still, it is where signals, assumed to have come from the locator beacons attached to the aircraft’s “black box” flight recorders, were picked up on April 5 and over the following days by an American “pinger locator” being towed by an Australian navy vessel, the Ocean Shield.

The Australian defense authorities now coordinating the search still say that to discover wreckage probably lying 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) deep, on so remote a seabed, will be like “finding a needle in a haystack.” And any subsequent recovery operation will obviously still be a huge challenge. But officials are confident that they have at least found the haystack.

During the early days of the search, almost everything that could go wrong did – from overlooked or misunderstood data to poor communication and uncoordinated and misallocated resources – as attention remained focused on the aircraft’s scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. And there were huge frustrations even when the search shifted to the Indian Ocean, as massive naval and air resources failed to find any trace of relevant surface debris.