Cyclone nears search area for missing plane

By: ABC News Email
By: ABC News Email

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Perth, Australia (ABC) -- As authorities search for the vanished Malaysian Airlines plane, a cyclone in the Indian Ocean is nearing the designated search area off the coast of Perth, Australia.

Although Cyclone Gillian is currently well north of the search area, experts are keeping an on eye on it as it moves through the Indian Ocean.

Crews searching for the missing plane have already had to contend with fog as they search an area of the Indian Ocean nicknamed the "Roaring Forties" for its rough waters.

While Chinese and Australian satellites have picked up possible debris from the plane, searchers in the air have yet to find these objects and confirm they are connected to missing Flight MH 370. What was believed to be a wooden pallet that could have come from the jet was seen by one plane Sunday, but another search plane sent to photograph it could not locate the pallet.

ABC News aviation expert and former Marine Corps pilot Steve Ganyard said even if the storm doesn't hit the search area head on, it can still affect the search effort since crew members may have difficulty identifying debris in whitecap waves churned up by a faraway storm.

Additionally if there is debris from the plane in the ocean, a large storm could displace it, making it almost impossible for investigators to trace the debris to a crash site as they have done in earlier investigations.

ABC News aviation expert John Nance said if the cyclone develops closer to the search area it would hinder the search effort for multiple reasons, including decreased visibility and a dispersal of debris.

"If you've got floating debris and the sea scape goes from eight to 10 feet to 40 to 45 feet your chances of sinking that [debris] becomes great," Nance said. "The large structures that we have been seeing, if they are indeed from the airplane, are probably very vulnerable to be sunk from the cyclone."

David Mearns, a search and recovery expert and founder of Blue Water Recoveries, said if the plane did crash into the water, weather events such as cyclones would likely not affect the crash site.

If the plane crashed where search crews are looking, Mearns said investigators would expect to find wreckage on the ocean floor that likely would be undisturbed by weather patterns thousands of feet above on the ocean surface.

"While it will have been fragmented into many, many pieces, most of that will be on the seabed," relatively undisturbed, said Mearns. "A classic pattern, it's probably no more than 1,500 to 2,000 meters in the longest dimension and about half as wide."

Search crews will start the search for the vanished plane on Monday.


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