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Advanced IMC dynamic modelling helps Fugro search for MH370

Advanced IMC dynamic modelling helps Fugro search for MH370

IMC’s advanced dynamic modelling capabilities have provided invaluable information to assist in the underwater search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

IMC was engaged by Fugro – the world’s largest integrator of geotechnical, survey, subsea and geosciences services – to provide engineering support for two of its specialist survey vessels during their mobilisation for the search.

The 70 metre Fugro Discovery commenced deepwater search operations in October 2014. It is equipped with specialist deep tow survey systems including side scan sonar and underwater video as well as hydrocarbon detection sensors. The 65 metre Fugro Equator joined the search in January 2015 after being reconfigured to accommodate similar equipment.

Fugro Equator operating in the search area in the southern Indian Ocean. Source: ATSB, photo by Justin Baulch

In addition to providing engineering services to support reconfiguration of the vessels, IMC was engaged to model the dynamic performance of sophisticated deep towed vehicles (“towfish”) that are critical to the search in the southern Indian Ocean. Instruments on the towfish collect data that is relayed in real time to the vessels for processing and analysis to determine if there is any evidence of MH370 debris on the seafloor.

The towfish are towed behind the vessels on cables up to 9km long and need to maintain an attitude above the sea floor of between 100 and 200 metres. This is extremely challenging as the search is being conducted in water depths up to 5,000 metres, over rugged bottom terrain including deep trenches, and often in extreme surface conditions.

'Dragon Prince' deep tow fish is recovered onto the back deck, as Fugro Discovery completes the first stage of the search for the missing Malaysia airlines flight MH370. Source: ATSB, photo by ABIS Chris Beerens, RAN. Released on 11 February 2015

To provide Fugro’s personnel with information critical to enabling these operations to be undertaken safely and effectively, IMC developed a sophisticated dynamic system model integrating vessel, cable winch and towfish performance.

Developed by IMC staff using the OrcaFlex software package, the simulation predicts the depth and trajectory of the towfish, taking into account the initial amount of cable payout, vessel speed, as well as cable winching acceleration, speed and duration. The model also calculates the resulting cable tension. This information enables operators onboard the vessels to alter operational parameters to ‘fly’ the towfish so that it can safely avoid upcoming obstacles resulting from changes in the seafloor topography.

As a result of IMC’s capabilities, the MH370 search is more effective, more efficient, and safer for both personnel and equipment.

IMC also employs the OrcaFlex dynamic analysis software to support a range of other advanced engineering analysis tasks related to offshore marine systems and vessels. These include mooring analysis, subsea lifting analysis and motions analysis.


1. Footage of ‘Dragon Prince’, the EdgeTech DT-1 towfish that is being used on Fugro Discovery to search the seafloor for MH370. In this film, 'Dragon Prince' is launched for the first time by Fugro crewmembers as they test its capabilities. Source: ATSB, video by ABIS Chris Beerens, RAN.

2. The following video from Fugro provides an overview of the operation of the towfish in use for the search.

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