Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Benedict Carey reports at the NYT that the uncertainties surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's disappearance are enormous, but naval strategists have been unraveling lost-at-sea mysteries as far back as the U-boat battles of World War II, and perhaps most dramatically in 1968, when an intelligence team found the submarine Scorpion, which sank in the North Atlantic after losing contact under equally baffling circumstances. "The same approach we used with Scorpion could be applied in this case and should be," says John P. Craven who helped pioneer the use of Bayesian search techniques to locate objects lost at sea. "But you need to begin with the right people." The approach is a kind of crowdsourcing, but not one in which volunteers pored over satellite images, like they have in search of Flight 370. "That effort is akin to good Samaritans combing a forest for a lost child without knowing for certain that the child is there," writes Carey.
Instead, forecasters draw on expertise from diverse but relevant areas — in the case of finding a submarine, say, submarine command, ocean salvage, and oceanography experts, as well as physicists and engineers. Each would make an educated guess as to where the ship is, based on different scenarios: the sub was attacked; a torpedo activated onboard; a battery exploded. Craven's work was instrumental in the Navy's search for the missing hydrogen bomb that had been lost in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain in 1966 and this is how Craven located the Scorpion. "I knew these guys and I gave probability scores to each scenario they came up with," says Craven. The men bet bottles of Chivas Regal to keep matters interesting, and after some statistical analysis, Craven zeroed in on a point about 400 miles from the Azores, near the Sargasso Sea. The sub was found about 200 yards away.
In the case of the downed Malaysian plane, forecasters might bring in climate and ocean scientists, engineers who worked on building the plane's components and commercial pilots familiar with the route. Those specialists would then make judgments based on the scenarios already discussed as possible causes for the disappearance of Flight 370: terrorism, pilot error, sudden depressurization and engine failure. Sound-detection technology in and around the Indian Ocean may aid this forecasting. The sound of the airliner's fall — if it hit the water — might already have been picked up by submarines watching each other. "In that case the information would be classified," says former submarine commander Alfred Scott McLare, "and we wouldn't know anything until it was released through back channels somehow.""