Let me find MH370, Kiwi says

Last updated 05:00 01/06/2014
Rob McCallum

CONFIDENT: Rob McCallum.

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A Kiwi ocean search expert vows to find missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 if his company wins the tender when the search is handed over to commercial specialists this week.

Seattle-based Rob McCallum said, given the time and resources, his team could do what government search agencies had been unable to do thus far.

McCallum, who led the successful recovery mission for Air France flight 447 two years after it crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, was confident his company, which specialises in deep-water search and deep-water scanning, could find the aircraft that had now been missing for 86 days.

"That's what we do for a living."

The aircraft vanished on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing on March 8 with 239 people aboard, including New Zealanders Paul Weeks, 38, and Ximin Wang, 50.

McCallum said his team used deep-water search equipment to find single-point targets, such as ships, submarines and aircraft.

For the past 15 years McCallum has arranged and worked on commercial and technical expeditions around the world for governments, the United Nations, private investors and commercial entities, including manned expeditions to the RMS Titanic and German battleship Bismarck.

Investigators have ruled out an area in the Southern Indian Ocean where acoustic signals were detected, after an unmanned submersible found no trace of the airliner, the Australian agency co-ordinating the hunt said on Thursday.

The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau will call for tenders this week for vessels and sonar equipment to continue the hunt, but the new commercial arm of the search would not start for another couple of months.

The underwater search would be put on hold until new, more-powerful sonar equipment was brought in to search a wider area of 56,000 square kilometres, based on analysis of satellite data of the plane's most likely course, the centre said.

The centre said the deep-water search would start in August and could take another year.

But McCallum said his team could find the missing plane in less than seven months, in a search area he believed to be about 30,000 square kilometres.

McCallum said it was unclear how much the deep-water search would cost. If more assets and more sonar were deployed the search could be completed faster but would be more expensive, he said.

The Australian government plans to spend A$90 million ($98.6m) on the search for the missing Malaysian plane.

McCallum said the initial first response effort for the Australian-led team was a "pretty standard one".

"Hindsight's a wonderful thing. You could always deploy more assets with hindsight."

McCallum said the first response effort so far was like an ambulance. "They can do the quick, sort of, first aid and then they can get the experts in."

Now it was time to hand the search over to the specialists, he said.

"I think the search for the black boxes was worth every effort but now that that effort has been expended, fruitlessly, it's time to stop and regroup and go into the full Monty version."

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Specialists would do a broader scale, wide swap search over a larger area of the ocean, he said.

McCallum said that it was "absolutely imperative" to continue the search until the plane was found.

"It does give a massive amount of closure to families, which is palpable and priceless."

It was also important to find what caused the tragedy to make sure the same fault was not replicated in the future, he said.

"There are a lot of triple sevens flying around out there."

The search effort would have cost New Zealand roughly $3.04m, based on RNZAF rates that saw the Ministry of Primary Industries billed about $11,000 per hour in the air, plus fuel, for fisheries patrols.

- Sunday Star Times

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