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Satellite imagery analysis in the search for MH370

The ATSB has released two reports which analyse data gathered during the surface search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

MH370: The 7th Arc

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said that although the underwater search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean had been suspended in January 2017, some residual analysis activity had continued.

“Consistent with our commitment to the public release of information pertaining to the search for MH370, we have today released two reports, prepared by Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO,” said Mr Hood. “They provide analysis and findings relating to satellite imagery taken on 23 March 2014, two weeks after the disappearance of MH370, over the southern Indian Ocean.”

The satellite imagery was acquired through the assistance of French authorities. The images were captured by satellite two weeks after the aircraft went missing on 8 March 2014. The area covered by the imagery was not one that was searched from the air at that time, but is close to the underwater search area.

Experts from Geoscience Australia examined four images to determine whether they contained objects that were potentially man-made in origin. The details of that work are described in the report Summary of imagery analyses for non-natural objects in support of the search for Flight MH370: Results from the analysis of imagery from the PLEIADES 1A satellite undertaken by Geoscience Australia.

“Geoscience Australia identified a number of objects in the satellite imagery which have been classified as probably man-made,” said Mr Hood. “The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world.”

Given the proximity to the defined underwater search area, the CSIRO conducted a drift study to determine the geographic origin of the objects identified in the satellite images to provide an indication of where they were likely to have been on 8 March 2014. The details of that work are described in the report The search for MH370 and ocean surface drift – Part III.

The drift study found that the projected location on 8 March of the objects identified in most of the satellite images was consistent with the area identified by experts during the MH370 First Principles Review in November 2016.  

 “Clearly we must be cautious,” said Mr Hood. “These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris.”

Mr Hood stated that “The information contained within the Geoscience Australia and CSIRO Reports may be useful in informing any further search effort that may be mounted in the future.”

Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search.

Read the CSIRO Drift Report III and Geoscience Australian's Satellite Imagery reports.

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Last update 16 August 2017