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Sonar used to map Transair Flight 810 wreckage on ocean floor off Oahu

By Annalisa Burgos

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    OAHU, Hawaii (KITV) — Experts are looking at the ocean floor off Ewa Beach to gain more insight into the wreckage of Transair Flight 810.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are trying to uncover what caused the cargo plane’s engines to fail on Friday. To find what they’re looking for, investigators need a map of the ocean floor — so they’re using side scan sonar to survey the debris field.

Best case scenario? The plane is intact in a small area. Worst case? Broken pieces scattered everywhere, making them hard to salvage.

Recovering every piece of the plane is crucial to getting answers. The U.S. Coast Guard recovered some cargo over the weekend, boxes, loose items, even stuffed animals.

But the most important pieces are the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

“What the investigators are going to want to do is is map the path of the flight, so that they can find anything that may have fallen off of the aircraft, from the point of failure to the end of the flight, and every piece of the aircraft that may have fallen off is a potential piece of the puzzle,” said Mike Plowman, a former U.S. Navy accident investigator. “If it turns out that there’s pieces of the aircraft that may have been shed, early in the flight, and then along the flight path, that becomes a needle in a haystack kind of thing.”

Plowman’s used sonar technology to identify enemy warships in the Ocean. “They send out a sound, and that sound echoes differently off of different materials. So hard metal objects are going to give a stronger return signal. And on the basis of that modern sonar is able to map a very detailed photo picture of the seafloor bottom and manmade objects will stick out,” he said.

Plowman lives in Ewa Beach and knows the ocean terrain there well.

“If you fly over that area, you’ll see that it’s very murky water as it’s as it’s mainly shallow out there. And so there’s a lot of sediment to suspended in the water,” said Plowman, who adds that salvage divers can also face challenges if the wreckage is further out.

“If they’re looking for debris in deeper water along where the shelf drops off of the other reef several miles out, then it becomes much more difficult,” he said.

Once the wreckage is assessed, NTSB can bring in boats with cranes and other equipment to bring up objects. Investigators are also scheduling interviews with air traffic controllers, Transair maintenance employees and the two pilots — both of whom are recovering.

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