Dye Markers Could Enhance Air Crash Searches
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The recent crash of Egypt Air Flight 804 in the Mediterranean Sea south of Greece that killed all 66 aboard prompted a massive search that revealed a debris field consisting of seat parts, luggage, and body parts believed to have been from the Airbus 320. The discovery of that debris will assist in the underwater search for the plane’s black boxes which may contain important evidence of what caused the crash.

That is not always the case. Sometimes those air and sea searches come up empty. For example, two years ago when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 with 239 souls aboard, vanished without a trace in the Andaman Sea just northwest of Malaysia, an intensive month-long search by air and sea turned up nothing. For that entire time the media followed the story with daily updates that there was “nothing new to report.” The disappearance of Flight 370 remains a mystery today.

Searches for downed aircraft are enhanced by sophisticated electronic equipment including satellite imagery, computer simulations, and sonar tracking. But there is a simple, inexpensive tool that could make the searches much more focused — marine dye markers. Dye markers have been in use since World War II to assist in the rescue of downed flyers or sailors. Life vests were routinely equipped with dye markers that deployed a bright fluorescent green patch in the ocean up to 50 meters in diameter. This simple tool resulted in the rescue of thousands of military personnel during the war. Dye markers continue in use today in both the military and civilian setting. They are inexpensive (under $50) and easy to use.

If all commercial aircraft were equipped with a special marine dye marker pod that would automatically deploy on contact with the water, ensuing search efforts would have an instantaneous “ground zero” from which to start. Instead of searching an area the size of Connecticut (as it was described in the case of Flight 804), they would have a much smaller and more manageable point of impact from which to commence a comprehensive search. This would result in searches that are much more targeted, efficient, and effective.

To be sure, over time the dye marker would be moved by the ocean currents, tides, surface winds, and other factors. Nonetheless, the existence of a dye marker target at or near the location of the crash would vastly increase the likelihood of a successful search.

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