Skip to main content

Flight 370 search chief: Hunt for plane is the most difficult in history

By Holly Yan and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
updated 9:31 PM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Angus Houston says underwater signals remain "the most promising lead"
  • "Groundbreaking work" with satellite analysis will help find the plane, he says
  • Houston defends Malaysia's response to the missing plane
  • Inmarsat offers free global airline tracking to all 11,000 commercial passenger planes

(CNN) -- The man leading the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 says the search is the most difficult in human history, but modern technology greatly increases the chances of finding the missing plane.

The four underwater signals that search teams detected are still "the most promising lead" investigators have in the search for the Boeing 777, Angus Houston told CNN's Anna Coren on Monday.

But are they all pings from the plane's data recorders?

A Wall Street Journal report Monday said authorities increasingly believe only the first two signals detected are relevant to the search. And a U.S. Navy source told CNN that Navy officials assisting in the search are sharing the signal data with U.S. agencies and consultants for "re-analysis," adding that searchers have more confidence in the first two pings detected.

Houston told CNN it's still too soon to rule out any of the signals.

"Analysis on all four detections is continuing," he said. "At this point in time, it is too early to discount any of the acoustic detections."

The pings have played a key role in shaping the search for the plane, which went missing March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard.

Houston told CNN the hunt for the plane is even more difficult than that for Air France Flight 447, which disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

"The big difference between Air France 447 and MH370 is that the last known position, in terms of MH370, is at the top of the Malacca Straits, and then the aircraft continued to fly for an extended period after that," Houston told CNN's Anna Coren on Monday.

"Whereas Air France, they had a very good last known position, which then turned out to be very close to where the aircraft was eventually found."

MH370 search may be in wrong ocean?
MH370 search enters more difficult phase
Search for Flight 370 to expand
Malaysia dismisses GeoResonance claims
On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

But he said searchers are performing "groundbreaking work" with satellite analysis, which has helped isolate the search area in the Indian Ocean.

"Without that, we would be essentially searching the whole of the Indian Ocean, and I think the chances of finding the aircraft in those circumstances would have been slim," Houston said. "I think by having this defined search area ... I think eventually we will find the aircraft."

Houston is the chief search coordinator for the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, based in Australia. He said his greatest concern throughout the two-month search has been the families of those on board.

"To have a set of circumstances where you don't know what's happened to your loved ones in circumstances such as this, it's just a terrible, terrible emotional trauma of all of those involved," he said.

"And beyond that, the wider public has a great interest in what happened here because we all fly in airplanes, and we all fly long distances over water, and a lot of people want to know what happened and why it happened."

Hunt for MH370 gets deeper, broader, pricier

About criticism of Malaysia

Since the plane disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, the Malaysian government has been criticized for its response and accusations that it has not been transparent.

Houston said he believes Malaysia has been forthcoming.

"I think some of the commentary about what the Malaysians have done, I don't think is as fair and objective as it might have been," Houston said. "People are looking for answers, and there are no answers at the moment. That's the difficulty."

'It just disappeared'

Houston said he understands why many families are frustrated by the lack of information.

"Initially, the aircraft -- well, simply put, it just disappeared. And I guess in this day and age, that surprised a lot of people," he said.

But such a disappearance is quite possible if the transponder or anything on the aircraft that transmits signals is turned off.

"I think that's something that we, as a world community, have to correct as soon as possible," Houston said. "We need to have jetliners that are equipped with some sort of tracking device that can't be turned off, that can be tracked all of the time. And with satellite technology available, I think that can be done in the near future."

On the same day that Houston spoke, a satellite communications company said it would begin providing a free global airline tracking service.

Inmarsat, the company whose satellite had the last known contact with Flight 370, said it proposed the service to the International Civil Aviation Organization ahead of the ICAO's conference on aircraft tracking this week.

"This service is being offered to all 11,000 commercial passenger aircraft, which are already equipped with an Inmarsat satellite connection," the company said in a statement.

It said the tracking would cover "virtually 100% of the world's long haul commercial fleet."

READ: New phase to include private contractors, may cost $60 million

READ: Hope transcends frustration in quest to bring families closure

READ: Plane audio recording played in public for first time to Chinese families

CNN's Rene Marsh and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
The search for MH370 is moving to an area farther south in the Indian Ocean, said the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
Families are desperate for results as the search for MH370 reaches a grim milestone. Anna Coren reports from Beijing.
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
updated 3:31 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
updated 5:05 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
There is one fundamental question which continues to swirl: Has Inmarsat got its numbers right?
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Data from communications between satellites and missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was released
updated 3:42 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Family members of the people aboard missing plane want independent investigators to review the newly released satellite data.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest explains what kind of information should be contained in the Inmarsat data from Flight MH370.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
updated 3:25 PM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.
ADVERTISEMENT