The Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing more than a year ago, may have nosedived into the southern Indian Ocean, smoothly entering the water with the fuselage intact, according to a new study.
Computer simulations lead to the forensic assertion that a 90-degree nosedive explains the lack of debris or spilled oil in the water near where the plane is presumed to have crashed, researchers said, shedding light on one of the greatest aviation mysteries.
The team led by mathematician Goong Chen from Texas A&M University at Qatar used applied mathematics and computational fluid dynamics to conduct numerical simulations on the RAAD Supercomputer of a Boeing 777 plunging into the ocean.
The team simulated five different scenarios.
In the study published in the journal Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Chen said based on all available evidence -- specially the lack of floating debris or oil spills near the area of the presumed crash -- the most likely theory is that the plane entered the water at a vertical or steep angle.
In any rescue and recovery effort of airplane crashes in water, the search for floating debris and oil is key. For example, for the disaster of Air France's flight 447 on June 1, 2009, 3,500 pieces of floating debris had been recovered, researchers said.
However, no debris has been found so far for MH370, they said.
The fluid dynamic simulations indicate, for a vertical water entry of the plane, that there would be no large bending moment, which is what happens when an external force, or moment, is applied to a structural element (such as a plane), which then causes the fuselage to buckle and break up.
As the vertical water-entry is the smoothest with only small bending moment in contrast with other angles of entry, the aircraft is less likely to experience "global failure," or break-up on entry near the ocean surface, which would explain the lack of debris or oil near the presumed crash site.
Chen said in such a situation the wings would have broken off almost immediately and, along with other heavy debris, would have sunk to the bottom of the ocean, leaving little or no trace to be spotted.
"The true final moments of MH370 are likely to remain a mystery until someday when its black box is finally recovered and decoded," Chen said.
"But forensics strongly supports that MH370 plunged into the ocean in a nosedive," Chen said.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people, including five Indians onboard on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In April this year, Malaysia, Australia and China announced that the search zone would double in size, boosting the area of the remote southern Indian Ocean being scoured by three specialist vessels to 120,000 sq km.