Nuclear experts to check if flight MH370 exploded

Last updated 09:39 11/03/2014

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Experts at the organisation monitoring the nuclear test ban treaty have been asked to see if they detected an explosion at high altitude of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane.

Dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries have scoured the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking attempt could have brought down the Boeing 777-200ER.

There has no sign of the missing plane or the 239 people on board since it lost contact over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam early on Saturday. Two of the people on the plane boarded using stolen passports, raising fears foul play could be involved in the disappearance.

Lassina Zerbo, executive director of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) told a news conference the organisation used "infrasound" - or infrasonic sensors - to monitor the earth mainly for atmospheric nuclear explosions.

Zerbo said he asked the head of the CTBTO's International Data Center to look at the data "and get back to me".

Zerbo said infrasound would be the best technology to check for an explosion on the missing plane if there was a monitoring station nearby, "or the explosion is at a level or at an amplitude that it could be detected".

"There's a possibility, it's not absolute, that the technology like the Infrazone could be able to detect" an explosion, he said in response to a question.

Acoustic waves with very low frequencies that are inaudible to the human ear are called infrasound, according to the CTBTO's website.

"Infrasound is produced by a variety of natural and man-made sources: exploding volcanoes, earthquakes, meteors, storms and auroras in the natural world; nuclear, mining and large chemical explosions, as well as aircraft and rocket launches in the man-made arena," the CTBTO said.

Infrasound monitoring is one of the four technologies used by the International Monitoring System (IMS) to verify compliance with the nuclear test ban treaty. The CTBTO said the construction of infrasound monitoring stations "has contributed to a revival of scientific interest in this technology."

The IMS infrasound network is the only global monitoring network of its kind and when it is fully operational it will consist of 60 stations "situated strategically in 35 countries around the world", the CTBTO said. It did not list the countries and completed stations.

A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area.

"The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet," said the source.

Asked about the possibility of an explosion, the source said there was no evidence of foul play and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical causes.

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Still, the source said the closest parallels were the bomb explosions on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and a Pan Am aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Both planes were cruising about 31,000 feet at the time.

- AP

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