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Missing Malaysia Jet Had Room to Land Among Andaman Island Chain

Mar 14, 2014 10:30 am

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The analysis of available landing space only adds to the speculation of where the missing jet is now located.

— Samantha Shankman

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Heri Juanda  / AP Photo

A member of Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) uses a binocular to scan the horizon during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 conducted on the waters of the Strait of Malacca off Sumatra island, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Heri Juanda / AP Photo


The Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than six days was “was deliberately flown across the Malay peninsula towards the Andaman Islands,” Reuters reports, citing two unnamed officials. The plane reportedly followed the longitude and latitude checkpoints used by experienced pilots to define air corridors, raising new suspicions that it was hijacked.

MH370 could have gone about 2,200 nautical miles (3,704 km) from its last reported position in the Gulf of Thailand, as the Wall Street Journal reported, which would put the Andamans well within the range. The chain is made up of hundreds of islands, most of them uninhabited, which separate the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The Andaman and Nicobar island chain (its full name) is mostly administered by India, which lies 1,200 kilometers to the west, except for a few isles on the northern end, which are part of Myanmar.

If MH370 made it to the Andamans, is there anywhere it could have landed?

The short answer is yes—there are several airports long enough to land a Boeing 777. But doing so covertly would probably require the complicity of the Indian armed forces (or perhaps those of Myanmar), which makes it extremely unlikely.

According to Boeing’s specifications for 777 aircraft (pdf, pg. 16), the plane would need between approximately 1,160 to 1,600 meters (3,800 and 5,200 feet) to land at sea level, depending on its weight at the time:

screen-shot-2014-03-14-at-5-27-49-pm

The main Andaman airport in the town of Port Blair is 3290 meters long—more than enough length for a 777. The airport is administered by the Indian Navy, which has just joined the search for the missing plane, so it’s pretty certain that flight MH370 did not land there undetected. Indian ships have been searching an area that reaches 270 nautical miles north from Port Blair, and 70 nautical miles west from Campbell Bay.

veer-savarkar-airport-21

The island chain’s other airports are the Car Nicobar Air Force Station (runway 2,717 meters), the Campbell Bay Airport (a mere 910 meters) and the tiny Shibpur Airstrip.

car-nicobar-airport-2

Slightly north of the Andamans, the airport at Coco Island, which is part of Myanmar, has a runway that is 1,400 meters long.

screen-shot-2014-03-14-at-7-36-30-pm

This story originally appeared on Quartz, a Skift content partner.

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