by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Australia released the names of six Australian passengers among the 239 people on board a missing Malaysia Airlines flight on Tuesday, as the search has widened on back of reports that the plane that vanished en route to Beijing early Saturday may have performed an unscheduled U-Turn.
As per a passenger manifesto by the Malaysia Airlines, the six Australians are three couples including Robert and Catherine Lawton, Rodney and Mary Burrows and Gu Naijun and Li Yuan.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has released a statement indicating it has made contact with their families.
DFAT said it "fears the worst" for those onboard and officials will remain in "constant and urgent contact" with Malaysia Airlines.
While new and apparently contradictory information compounds the vastness of the search zone -- a stretch of water Professor Jason Middleton, head of the School of Aviation at UNSW, describes as "larger than Belgium" -- nations have continued to pour resources into solving the mystery with more than 40 ships and some 35 aircraft from Southeast Asian countries, Australia, China, New Zealand and the United States.
In Queensland, the family of missing Australians Rod and Mary Burrows released a statement saying they are "waiting and hoping for the best."
"We'd like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and ask that they continue...Our family will remain together to provide strength and support to each other as we maintain hope, but brace each other for the worst."
"We are grateful to all the organizations and countries providing the extensive search and rescue operations and our prayers and thoughts include the families of the other passengers and crew on board the flight," the statement said.
The search area will now expand well beyond the 100 nautical mile radius from the point where the plane was last detected, to include the possibility that flight MH370 may have changed its flight plan to the west of Malaysia.
With authorities seemingly baffled by the disappearance of MH370, Middleton, one of Australia's leading aviation experts, said the most recent air disaster of similar magnitude -- the 2009 loss of Air France 447 into the Altantic ocean -- was because of instrumentation icing interfering with the pilots ability to read airspeed data.
"The pilot(s) responded poorly, and their plane stalled and fell to the sea from nearly 38,000 feet. Poor training was held to be a contributing factor, and the captain was apparently not in the cockpit at the time," Middleton said.
Severe malfunctions such as a double engine failure or inflight structural failure would likely still leave the pilots time to issue a mayday call.
Middleton said that with Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, it appears that the individual plane, a Boeing B777-200ER, did suffer wing tip damage in a ground collision in 2012, although failure of this repair would appear to be an unlikely cause of communications failure as well."
But the absence of any transponder information is harder to theorize.
"The so-called 'black box' flight data recorder (actually orange in colour) will have recorded the entire flight data from the departure gate at Kuala Lumpur, and will most likely be found intact, with readable data.
"It is capable of withstanding far greater depths than 100 meters, and of withstanding fires and even a mild explosion. It has internal battery power, and will emit sonar 'pings' to enable location under water."
According to the head of UNSW's School of Aviation, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), also water-proof and having a locator pinger, will have recorded the last minutes of conversation between the pilots, and will eventually be recovered.
Using this information, together with detailed forensic studies of all retrieved components, the accident investigators should be able to reconstruct the physical cause of the accident. However, in the case of Air France 447, the wreckage was not located until months after the flight disappeared.
"While the Malaysian accident investigators will lead the investigation, many stakeholders will contribute by providing specialists, including Malaysia Airlines, Boeing Airplane Company, Rolls Royce and Honeywell. Ultimately the truth will emerge, and hopefully the causes of the tragedy will provide important lessons to make flying even safer in future," Middleton said.
Until then, the family of Rod and Mary Burrows have gathered together -- like so many other families around the world -- to " try to maintain hope, but bracing for the worst."
No solid clues found after more than 90 hours of missing flight
BEIJING, March 11 (Xinhua) -- China has made great efforts to search and rescue the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with almost two-thirds of the passengers from China, however no solid clues have been found so far. Full story