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Why we have to keep searching for MH370

By David Soucie
updated 10:20 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8. A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8.
HIDE CAPTION
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Search has resumed for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
  • Australia has already spent millions of dollars on search, David Soucie notes
  • MH370 search set to be most expensive in history, Soucie says
  • But the cost of not finding out what happened even greater, he says

Editor's note: David Soucie, a former FAA safety inspector, is an analyst for CNN and author of "Why Planes Crash -- An Accident Investigator's Fight For Safe Skies." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. For more on this issue, watch "Vanished: The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370" Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

(CNN) -- I know from experience how the lack of tangible evidence gnaws at an accident investigator. Eventually, the passion driving efforts to find answers is replaced with a feeling of futility and hopelessness. For the investigator in charge, valuable time that could be spent on the search and investigation will be spent justifying the cost of the search to the bureaucracy. But as the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 resumes after a four-month hiatus, investigators must realize the question here is not how much it will cost to find the airplane and determine the cause to ensure it won't happen again. Instead, the question should be this: How much will it cost if they don't?

David Soucie
David Soucie

Armed with new maps of the seafloor from an extensive survey operation funded by the Australian Transportation Safety Board, the Fugro Equator has resumed the underwater search for MH370. Three ships will begin searching for debris on the ocean floor in a refined search area after new information revealing an attempt to communicate with the plane via satellite phone prompted investigators to revise the search area much farther south than previously.

Each of the search vessels has been fitted with sophisticated underwater sonar equipment designed to use a towed device to examine the bottom of the ocean floor for abnormalities that may be remnants of the Boeing 777 that vanished from radar on March 8. The Echo Surveyor II being used is much more capable, and can work at more extreme depths, than the Bluefin 21 used in previous searches.

Not giving up on flight MH370
Searching for MH370
$35,000 stolen from MH370 passengers

But all this sophisticated equipment and trained scientists to operate it is not cheap. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss announced a $50 million (Australian dollars) contract in August to fund yet another round of searches for the missing plane and 239 passengers and crew, while Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston reportedly estimated as much as $25 million has been paid to the defense force for the visual search it conducted. In addition, another $60 million has been committed for the underwater search. Finally, if and when the aircraft is found, the retrieval and causal investigation could easily add $50 million or more to the price tag.

All this adds up to what would be the costliest search in history, more even than the estimated $160 million in recovery costs for Air France Flight 447 off the coast of Brazil in 2009. The search area for that plane was narrowed to only five square miles within weeks, and yet it took nearly two years to find and recover the remnants of the Airbus A330 aircraft. The search and recovery area for MH370 is exponentially greater, at some 23,000 square miles, and may therefore be exponentially more expensive.

But while it is understandable against the backdrop of such rising costs why investigators might be tempted to abandon the search, the consequences of not establishing the cause of the tragedy could be disastrous. After all, without some kind of assurance that the problem has been corrected -- clearly not possible without knowing what happened -- it could happen again at any time to any airline.

The reality is that accidents without answers produce doubts about safety, and such doubt can eventually take a toll on the entire airline industry, not just one particular air carrier. True, millions of people continue to fly in the wake of the disappearance of MH370. But tens of millions of dollars in passenger revenue have already been lost as Malaysian Airline's jets reportedly fly with large numbers of vacant seats. As a result of the drop in passenger numbers, Malaysia Airlines is set to be removed from the stock exchange as part of a 12-point recovery plan in an effort to rebound from the losses. But imagine the damage it could do to the entire airline industry if there is another tragedy and still no answer to the question of what caused the disappearance of MH370. Such a turn of events would rock not only passengers' faith in the airlines' ability to keep them safe, but also governments' ability to assure safe air travel.

Ultimately, while the cost of the search can be counted, the costs of giving up cannot be fully calculated. But they are surely higher, in terms of lost revenues and damaged public confidence. Put bluntly, the best way of ensuring that the tragedy of MH370 is not repeated is to find the plane -- or what remains of it -- and work out what actually caused this in the first place. Whatever the cost.

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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.
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