back to article MH370 final report: Aussies still don’t know where it crashed or why

Australian air authorities have published their final report into the MH370 mystery, concluding that they’re no wiser about what happened or why than when the Malaysian Airlines flight vanished three years ago. Australia’s Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) took a leading role in the investigation at the invitation of …

Black Helicopters

There is, without any question, more to this story than is being told...

The guy was doing some strange stuff in simulators prior to the disappearance, and despite us being able to view a pimple on the nose of anyone on the planet via satellites, nobody knows what happened or where it is? Come on.

The idea that since 9/11 we're not tracking the precise location of every aircraft everywhere, is just not credible.

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Since our primary means of tracking aircraft is via radar, the idea that we'd massively scale out our radar infrastructure across the oceans despite them containing 0 military or civilian targets is far more preposterous.

I won't get into the actual likely capabilities of spy satellites vs Hollywood depictions, but even in Hollywood they realise that you have to maneuverer satellites to have sight of targets of interest and this takes time.

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The idea that since 9/11 we're not tracking the precise location of every aircraft everywhere, is just not credible.

Ground based radar tracking over built up areas and conflict zones is quite precise, but out in the vast featureless wilderness of the oceans, nope, there's no coverage. Normally the tracking outside of radar cover is via the aircraft's satellite comms systems, but AFAIK that's not continuous, and in the case of MH370 those systems appear to have been switched off or failed for reasons unknown. For these incredibly remote, unpopulated areas, before MH370 why would you bother precision tracking (and even after, in all honesty)?

I suspect in future we'll see near-continuous tracking via the satcomms, whether that will be fault resilient and tamper proof who knows.

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The spy satellites are more concerned with photographing military targets. Even so, had they been tasked with photographing the ocean, you would've needed quite some luck to have taken a picture of the right area before the debris got scattered out blending in with all the other debris floating around.. Not to mention the manpower needed to sift through all those photos. There was a crowd sources effort to look through satellite photos, which turned up empty.

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@Ledswinger

I suspect in future we'll see near-continuous tracking via the satcomms, whether that will be fault resilient and tamper proof who knows.

Whatever systems we build (or retrofit) into aircraft, there will always need to be a simple means of switching them off - you need circuit breakers that can swiftly be pulled in case a fault develops that could turn into a fire and threaten the aircraft. So someone who knows what they're doing will always be able to disable them.

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Re: @Ledswinger

There was actually a fire a couple of years ago (fortunately on the ground) in the water-activated emergency beacon on the roof of a plane at Stansted or Gatwick. So even these need to be shut down sometimes.

I don't know what the failure rates on components on modern aircraft are, but I wouldn't be surprised if every 2 or 3 flights globally take off with some system powered down until they can get the plane to overnight maintenance. I know that all the manufacturers provide a list of components that are either non-essential, or have so many back-ups, that you can fly with them not working.

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"despite us being able to view a pimple on the nose of anyone on the planet via satellites"

Once your initial assumption is wrong even the most impeccable logic won't help you.

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Re: @Ledswinger

There was actually a fire a couple of years ago (fortunately on the ground) in the water-activated emergency beacon on the roof of a plane at Stansted or Gatwick. So even these need to be shut down sometimes.

The one you're thinking of was a 787 parked at Heathrow airport.

The AAIB report is here.

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Non Interuptable Autopilot on AirBus since 1989, Boeing since 1996

Rolls Royce engines send regular GPS and status reports to HQ, last report was normal shut down at Diego Garcia. We have total planet satellite coverage of every plane, drone and surface ship and hydrophone for every submarine. Secret cargo manifest insured for $400 million, likely fraud. Five of six software patent holders for FreeScale were onboard, heir get total patent. Guess who that FreeScale executive is. Visit AbelDanger.org for more details.

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The X Files came up as an answer on Pointless last night. Co-incidence? I don't think so ...

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Exactly. People confuse drone imaging with what is available from a satellite. I'm fairly sure satellites are not flouting some basic physical rules.

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The big roll of turkey foil is over there >>

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Electric Monk

Nuked, modern day people have the ability to believe multiple contradictory ideas at the same time, like the Electric Monk of Douglas Adams.

That there is no hiding anything and that you can lose a plane full of people.

The readers of The Register being smarter than most are able to construct complex thought processes allowing them to simultaneously justify multiple contradictory ideas at the same time as rejecting clearly obvious ideas like a conspiracy to hide the plane.

"Oh no, it could not be that bad people took the aircraft and lied about it. That would mean a conspiracy and those things never happen."

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SMART operators like the one I work for use a real time satellite based aircraft locator system like Spidertracks - http://www.spidertracks.com/. There are several other similar real time systems, Spider is what we use.

Radar as tracking is actually extremely limited as radar is line of sight only - so any hills or mountains between the radar and the aircraft makes the aircraft invisible. Also almost any aircraft not transmitting on its transponder is invisible to radar unless close to the radar.

Spider adds as little as US$2 an hour to the operating costs of each aircraft but sends multiple emails and text messages the moment an aircraft ceases to transmit to the satellite at the programmed interval. The emails and text messages contain the aircraft location, speed, altitude and heading at the time of the last transmission. In an emergency the priorities are Aviate first (keep the aircraft flying), Navigate second (head for an airport) and Communicate third. Operators can reduce the ping interval if they wish though that does increase the cost. Many operators in hostile search environments, such as mountainous terrain with tall timber, significantly reduce the ping time as that massively increases the chances of reaching the scene while injured people are alive.

Zero time and money wasted in searching large areas as, at worst, the crash location is within a small radius of the last transmission. At best it is a short distance in a straight line from last transmission. Spider can also transmit several pre-programmed messages just by pushing one button on its control panel. The pilots cannot afford to take time to make radio calls during an emergency but they can take the time to push a button.

The big airlines do not want this because it adds two dollars an hour to the operating cost and all search costs are borne by countries, not the operators.

Instead they prefer the existing ELTs that do not operate under water and which fail in 40% of all land accidents due to broken antennas or wiring and airlines strongly lobby governments to oppose ICAO mandating real time tracking.

Because Spider costs far less than fitting an ELT, fitting Spider or similar to new aircraft instead of the pre-GPS (and pre-satellite communications technology) ELTs would give operators about 15,000 hours of free tracking.

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Mushroom

planet is surrounded by spy satellites

And you darn well know someone has an idea where it is; but then that would be telling now, wouldn't it?

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

I can't imagine that any of the governments running spy satellites would be very interested in a featureless bit of ocean. They'd much rather monitor the Barents Sea or the GIUK Gap etc.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Not that straightforward - satellites don't just hover over one spot staring at featureless ocean... And changing their trajectory is not trivial as they only have a finite amount of fuel.

Also worth bearing in mind that a passenger aircraft is small and fast moving, under a satellite that's travelling around 8km/s....

I'm not saying that nobodies satellites would have seen it, maybe someone did have something staring at an empty spot of ocean for some reason, but the liklihood seems slim, and the liklihood that anyone was paying attention to it seems even slimmer!

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

The planet is surrounded by spy satellites, pointing their cameras at interesting places. Not the very, very empty Southern Indian Ocean. Which is empty.

Did I mention there's bugger-all there?

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Do you know how big the planet is?

And do you know how small the resolution required to see a plane is?

Hint: No, you can't see the Great Wall of China from space.

Sure, if you want to peak at a building in the Middle East, you can move the sat to look at it and take hi-res pictures, etc. But over 25,000km of empty ocean, not a chance that you'll see more than a dot, and that'll be hours stale, so you'll still have no idea where it went or what happened or even what direction is was actually flying in by the time you get the image back.

People forget that, tiny though the planet is, the world is HUGE and there are all kinds of humongous things that just aren't visible unless you're specifically looking for them, and that even when you're looking for them aren't easy to track - because we HAVEN'T turned thousands of miles of empty ocean into 1984-style surveilled territory for one-in-a-million plane flight that we had no idea was going awry until it was far too late anyway.

Seriously, go find a whale on Google Earth. I guarantee you that in the vast trackless ocean mapping there, there's a whale surfacing somewhere, because there are hundreds of thousands of the damn things and they're huge. Don't cheat. Start in the middle of the ocean, max-zoom, and go find one, just by looking and scrolling around.

Now guess what? Google Earth is updated once-in-a-blue-moon for most locations like that, and even if you saw the whale, could you tell where that whale was now? Absolutely not. That's pretty much the best spy-satellite you'll ever get to play with, and it's damn useless for that kind of task.

An MH370 plane has precisely 60.9m wingspan. Let's call that 60m. Let's pretend it's square and obvious, to make the maths easy, so call it a 60m x 60m sheet of metal. That's 3,600 square metres. The search area is 25,000 square kilometres. Which is 2.5 x 10^10 square metres. That means you could fit, in the search area alone, 6,944,444 planes. 7 million planes. You'd have to search 7 million plane-sized images to find it. If each image took 1 second to photograph and transmit, it would take 84 DAYS before the amazing-mega-spy-sat-2000 went back and took the next image at the first spot. If the plane WAS in the search area, and you stabbed at a point at random, you stand more chance of being struck by lightning than hitting the plane. And that's if it's fully visible and not submerged, broken up, confused with anything else (e.g. whales!), etc. AND that it's in the area you're looking at.

Add in the 3D of water and ocean and junk settling on something on the ocean floor and you stand slim chance of finding it even if you have a rough idea where it went down.

Despite what the movies might show you, satellites aren't that good (limited by the same stuff as telescopes on Earth spotting those satellites), nobody sits watching thousands of miles of empty ocean, and a plane going down is a tiny speck in the world.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

> ...the likelihood that anyone was paying attention to it seems even slimmer!

Add to that that for the satellite everything looks normal until the second of impact, which would be over pretty darn quick, rendering chances even slimmerer.

And there may have been clouds, hence zilch to see.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Good lord - have an upvote just for the sheer length of that post, which did at least hold my attention.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

May I draw your attention to XKCD's What If on looking at objects from space?

https://what-if.xkcd.com/32/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

"Not that straightforward - satellites don't just hover over one spot staring at featureless ocean."

Some do. Meteosat and GOES, for example.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

On that link to what if, I'm sure the tablet on the desk is viewing The Register....

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Bahboh,

OK. Quickly searched for your example of Meteosat.

It's a weather satellite, not a spy sat, so wasn't designed for looking for small things on the surface, so much as weather patterns.

According to the info here:

The Meteosat-8 satellite belongs to the second generation of Meteosats and is much more capable than the first generation Meteosat-7 — delivering imagery from 12 instead of 3 spectral channels, with higher spatial resolution and with an increased frequency, every 15 instead of every 30 minutes. Of the 12 spectral channels, 11 provide measurements with a resolution of 3 km at the subsatellite point. The twelfth, so-called HRV (High Resolution Visible) channel of SEVIRI (Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager), provides measurements with a resolution of 1 km

So the High Resolution camera has a resolution of 1km, and records an image every 15 minutes. You might be able to see the flying saucer from Independence Day, but you've got bugger-all chance of seeing any planes.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Since the crash almost certainly occurred in a remote part of the Indian Ocean which has almost nothing of military significance to monitor, it would dumb luck a spy satellite would be monitoring at the right time and place. If there was satellite that actually picked the plane up I would think it is more likely to be weather satellite. This assumes the resolution is fine enough to detect a plane and again the satellite would have to be in the right place at the right time.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

I once found a submarine on Google Earth. It was just outside Tokyo bay. Always takes me awhile to find it again though.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

I do however hope that weather satellite imagery taken at the time in question has been examined. Granted it does not have he resolution to resolve an aircraft, but it does have enough resolution to resolve a contrail if conditions were such that the aircraft left one.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

>it does have enough resolution to resolve a contrail

I don't know that you're right. The contrail might be more than a kilometre long, but it's only about 70 metres wide. The difference in the reflectivity of the ocean and the ocean viewed through the contrail might not be enough when blended across 1 km pixels to be able to 'join the dots'.

OT: Oi, El Reg! The wavy red line of disapproval appears beneath the word when I write kilometre, but disappears if I swap the last two letters. Please load a proper English dictionary! (Or in this particular case, a French one, I guess).

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

"OT: Oi, El Reg! The wavy red line of disapproval appears beneath the word when I write kilometer, but disappears if I swap the last two letters. Please load a proper English dictionary! (Or in this particular case, a French one, I guess)."

Assuming you're not actually joking:

(a) The dictionary is supplied by you via your browser. In my case, using Seamonkey which is the same program for both browser and mail, I get exactly the same underlining in both the browser and the mail composing windows.

(b) Kilometre is the original French spelling and hence is correct unless you live in a country that also thinks that colour and theatre are also incorrect.

If you wish to persist in using the spellings currently in vogue in the colonies load the en_us dictionary or right-click on the word and add your misspelling to your dictionary.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Are you sure it wasn't a whale?

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

I suspect the plane flew somewhere that can't exist on a globe planet, so they never looked there.

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

"I do however hope that weather satellite imagery taken at the time in question has been examined. Granted it does not have he resolution to resolve an aircraft, but it does have enough resolution to resolve a contrail if conditions were such that the aircraft left one."

Why would they be spreading their chemikilz over the ocean? Turning the frigging fish gay?

:)

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

"but it does have enough resolution to resolve a contrail if conditions were such that the aircraft left one."

But when the pilot turned off the transponders, shirley he also turned off the Chemtrail emitters, right?

https://xkcd.com/966/

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Re: planet is surrounded by spy satellites

Dr Syntax

It is only one EX colony that cannot spell and cannot tell if a meter is a measuring device or a measurement.

Most other EX colonies can spell correctly though in Aus the correct spelling of labour is used by everyone except a union based political party who consider spelling irrelevant.

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Conspiracy theories

This is an absolute tragedy, but also an illustration of the limitations of the technology we have available.

Sadly, the publication of this report will pull all the conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork (as already in this thread). The truth is probably much more boring. It had all coms turned off and lost presurisation, (probably related, perhaps malicious), and flew on until fuel exhaustion.

Since nobody is monitoring the centre of the oceans, and the satellite coms were mostly turned off or disabled from the aircraft (except the hourly handshake direct from the engines), we don't really know where it is.

The reality, sadly, is that this could easily happen again, since nobody is magically going to start actively monitoring remote oceans, and systems can always be disabled from onboard the aircraft. Remember, it's not that we COULDN'T know where the aircraft was, it's that the system for locating it was turned off (or broken).

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Re: Conspiracy theories

Ultimately if the guys (or girls) sitting in the pointy end decide to do something nefarious there is nothing anyone can realistically do, the opportunities to bin an aircraft from the flight deck are endless.

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Re: Conspiracy theories

AndyS

Fitting real time tracking that cannot be disabled will eliminate the inability to locate the wreckage and the ability of crew to disable the tracking. Both will save millions of dollars in search costs and more importantly, if there are survivors locate them before they die of exposure or injury

See the item on Spidertracks above

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Re: Conspiracy theories @ Mi Tasol

It is possible to have systems which cannot be disabled from the flight deck, but not always desirable. In fact it was such a system which led to the search area - the engines had an independent coms system which performed a satellite handshake once an hour. Although it exchanged no data, the time it took for the signal exchange allowed a rough calculation of how far away it was from the satellite at each hour.

A much more complex system, exchanging GPS location and flight parameters etc, would almost certainly need to be designed such that it could be disabled from the cockpit. It's impossible to say if the systems were actively turned off or failed through some catastrophic event, and even if they were deliberately turned off it's impossible to establish malicious intent, but it seems likely that, in the case of MH370, a more complex sat-com system would also have been disabled at the same time as the other systems.

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Happy

Why should the Aussies know, why not write that we still don't know.

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Why should the Aussies know?

It wasn't our plane, it also wasn't lost over Australian air space, it supposedly crashed somewhere west of Australia. For all we really do know it could be in India's backyard. (they are west of Australia also)

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Little Jim

It's fallen in the water!

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Re: Little Jim

Not sure that's appropriate here, but on the plus side it means I'm not the only El Reg habitué who remembers the Goon Show.

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Anonymous Coward

If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

Thousands of people go missing every year. Shit happens I'm afraid.

That's why people invented religion to explain the shit, didn't work then, doesn't work now, but easier to understand than science.

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Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

If the plane were to be found, the failure point would be isolated and hardened. It won't bring those who died back. It will prevent this ever happening again.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

We are pretty sure we know the failure point, which was a person, and we can hope that systems have been hardened to reduce the likelihood of this happening again.

But I still think it is a disgrace that the airline and governments concerned will not continue to fund the search for the wreckage, to allay all doubt.

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Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

But I still think it is a disgrace that the airline and governments concerned will not continue to fund the search for the wreckage, to allay all doubt.

Well, a quick look indicates that total search costs to date must now be in the region of $100m. Since there's not really a better idea of where to look than "somewhere else", it would seem that a further $100m would not be an unreasonable ballpark for another search of many thousands of square km. And then there's the slight issue of salvaging anything useful from 15,000 feet or so - the AF447 salvage operation cost $42m.

Is a further $150m a reasonable expenditure, with no certainty that the data recorder will found, or be able to tell anything useful?

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Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

But I still think it is a disgrace that the airline and governments concerned will not continue to fund the search for the wreckage, to allay all doubt.

Doubt about what? That they're all dead? There is no doubt about that. You can lose an aircraft in the middle of an ocean but you can't smuggle one into an air defence perimiter and on to an airport undetected and you're not going to be able to determine the cause of the crash even if you locate wreckage because it will be disintegrated and mostly irrecoverable. So, what doubt are you trying to resolve? The possibility that the plane was teleported out of the air by space aliens?

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Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

"

We are pretty sure we know the failure point, which was a person

"

Rubbish. That's just speculation based on pretty weak evidence. I'm quite sure that some sort of motive could be found in anyone's life with a bit of imagination. As for the "suspicious" simulations ... I hardly think it would have been necessary for an airline pilot to practice such a flight on a simulator any more than you would need a driving simulator to practice driving into a brick wall at 80MPH.

Far more likely IMO that the crew was incapacitated. It would not be the first time that toxic smoke overcame the flight crew before they put on their oxygen masks. If the smoke originated from a fire in the avionics bay it would also explain the lack of communications.

It would also not be the fist time an aircraft flew on autopilot with an incapacitated crew until running out of fuel (in this case due to loss of cabin pressure) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helios_Airways_Flight_522

There is perhaps a case to be made for fitting a very tough buoyant locator transmitter to the exterior of aircraft in such a way that it will break away in the event of a crash. You have to be pretty much on top of a wreck to detect the sonar pings from its "black box", but a radio beacon will be detected and located within hours by polar orbiting satellites designed for exactly that purpose.

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Re: If you found the plane it wouldn't bring the people back.

"But I still think it is a disgrace that the airline and governments concerned will not continue to fund the search for the wreckage, to allay all doubt."

You do realise that airlines and governments don't have access to a magic money tree, don't you?

The searching that has been done has been paid for by us working stiffs through taxes and, to a lesser extent (I suspect most of the search costs have been borne by the unfortunate Australian taxpayer) those who purchase tickets from Malaysia Airlines.

While it would be nice to see the matter resolved one way or another, I am, as a taxpayer, grateful to $deity that this didn't happen in New Zealand's extensive search area.

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