FREMANTLE, PERTH–Australia will send the first team of air-crash investigation experts to the remote Indian Ocean search area for Flight 370 in the next few days, following a request from the Malaysian government, which has taken command of the investigation.
Engineering and aviation experts from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will depart Perth aboard the Australian navy vessel ADV Ocean Shield, hoping to positively identify any debris retrieved from the water, a spokesman for the ATSB told The Wall Street Journal.
“Under international convention, the Malaysians have responsibility for the investigation. Australia will continue to provide Malaysia with all necessary assistance in the search and retrieval of the aircraft, which is a key part of any investigation,” he said.
Other international partners in the search for the missing plane have already made moves to prepare for a salvage operation, despite having failed to retrieve any plane-related debris so far.
The United States has dedicated specialized equipment to help locate and retrieve the aircraft’s black boxes, which could be sitting on the ocean floor more than 2,300 kilometers southwest of Perth. The U.S. equipment will also travel aboard the Ocean Shield to the search area.
The United Kingdom has sent the hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo to the area, which will help to construct a map of the ocean floor. The area where the plane could have crashed is so remote that it has never been surveyed.
The Australian air-crash investigation team is due to arrive on-site in early April and will use manufacturer marks and other distinguishing features to determine if any debris discovered floating on the ocean came from the lost Boeing 777 aircraft, or are just pieces of flotsam, the ATSB said.
The team may also be able to determine if fire or an explosion rocked the aircraft mid-flight by assessing even small pieces of recovered plane parts, said air-crash expert Mr. Graham Edkins, who has worked on similar investigations for clients like Qantas and Australia’s civil aviation body, CASA. These clues could answer why the plane crashed and who, if any among the crew and passengers, was responsible, he said.
Any recovered wreckage is likely to be taken back to a secure facility in Perth, where it would be sorted, 3-D scanned and run through a computer model. The models would help reconstruct the plane’s fuselage and show how and why it broke apart, Mr. Edkins said.
The Malaysian government assumed command of the investigation into the lost flight after the country’s Prime Minister Najiv Razak confirmed on Monday that the plane had been lost in international waters. His statement followed information shared with the government by British satellite operator Inmarsat, which had reviewed telecommunications data collected from Flight 370.
Under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the flag-carrier nation for an aircraft lost in the high seas outside territorial waters assumes responsibility for its recovery and any subsequent investigations.
“If wreckage is discovered, Australia will work with Malaysia to ensure it is handled in accordance with accident procedures,” the ATSB said.
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