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By Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Navy dispatched its most technologically advanced search aircraft to an empty quarter of the Indian Ocean on Thursday to look for two large pieces of debris that may provide the first physical evidence in the investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Experts were hopeful that the debris would not turn out to be another of the false leads and misinterpreted data that have dogged the investigation into why the Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers and crew turned from its Beijing trajectory March 8 and then vanished.

Even if the floating objects photographed in the southern Indian Ocean on Sunday by a commercial satellite prove to be from the aircraft, the remainder could lie thousands of feet below the ocean surface and possibly hundreds of miles away.

“It is the beginning of a very long saga,” said David Gallo, who managed search expeditions for Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil in 2009. “The search teams are already physically and emotionally drained.”

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister and chief government spokesman, said Friday that he remained cautious about the debris report, even as officials there were gearing up for a multinational operation to recover the plane’s black boxes, with lessons learned from the Air France recovery effort.

In the time since the debris was photographed, about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, it could have drifted 70 miles, complicating efforts to get a closer look, experts said. Its drift from the impact area would be far greater, they added.

Although currents and winds in that part of the Indian Ocean are not considered particularly strong, predicting how a piece of debris can drift over many days is an inexact science. Calculating where the main body of wreckage may have settled after sinking several thousand feet could be even harder, oceanographers and accident investigators say.

Search aircraft spent very little time over the area Thursday before the mission had to be called off at nightfall. Expectations were not much greater for coming days. Even the most capable long-range aircraft, including the U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon, would get only three hours to comb the area before having to return to a distant base in Perth.

“As oceans go, this is probably one of the most remote areas on the planet,” Gallo said. “It’s a long way from any place.”

The larger of the two photographed pieces was estimated to be 79 feet long, according to an analysis by the Australian navy. Only two parts of a 777 — the fuselage or a wing — are as extensive. Although a wing, empty of its fuel after a long flight, might float for a while, the fuselage probably would sink soon, experts said. A number of experts also cautioned that the debris could be nothing more than the normal junk that floats in much of the world’s oceans.

If the debris is verified, however, scientists will create computer models based on factors such as ocean currents and wind speed to predict where the impact zone and underwater debris field lie, said Gallo, director of special operations at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Even the smallest detail about the floating objects, such as whether they might catch wind like a sail, can affect their movements, experts said.

“The ocean is full of surprises,” said Luca Centurioni, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. “The ocean could be moving in one direction and the wind can make it go a different way.”

Centurioni said the ocean currents in the area move easterly at about half a mile per hour.

The area is known as the Mid-Indian Ridge, with water depths of 10,000 feet to 13,000 feet that create pressures so intense that retrieving debris would require the use of remotely controlled submersible research vessels.

In the meantime, navy aircraft will probably follow traditional search patterns, flying back and forth along rows, like mowing a lawn. Even at low altitude with radar and infrared sensors that detect variations in temperature, debris can be difficult to find, said Robert Ditchey, a commercial airline executive and former Navy pilot who flew a submarine-hunting P-3 Orion.

Even a whale breaching the surface may be invisible from an overhead search aircraft, depending on sunlight, water clarity and wave height, he said.

“Waves reflect radar and water alters the optical capability of infrared,” Ditchey said. “You can have something a few inches below the surface and you can’t see it.”

Once they narrow their search area, investigators will lower listening devices and attempt to pick up signals from a device attached to the plane’s two black boxes. Battery life of the “pinger” devices is about 30 days.

Although it took searchers five days to find wreckage of the Air France flight, it took two years to retrieve its voice and data recorders from a depth of about 13,000 feet. Information they revealed help clarify the cause of that crash.

Experts remain hopeful that they will catch a similar break in the Malaysia Airlines mystery.

“This has been a roller coaster,” said Michael Barr, an accident investigation expert and former military pilot. “Everything has been unlucky so far, so maybe this time we will get lucky.”

AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin


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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
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  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
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