By Liam Croy [Story as it appeared in The West Australian – 3rd of April, 2014]
A Perth remote sensing company has been tasked with finding the wreckage of MH370. Welshpool-based Scantherma applies its mapping and imaging technologies across a range of residential, commercial, agricultural and resources projects. From iron ore exploration in the jungles of West Africa to energy efficient homes in Perth, Scantherma’s capabilities are diverse in nature and scale.
Chief executive Amir Farhand and his 11 staff do the bulk of their work in the resources industry, where they have teamed with BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group and the world’s largest iron ore producer, Brazilian corporation, Vale.
They are currently working with Samsung C&T on the Roy Hill project in the Pilbara. But after a “serendipitous” meeting at a recent mining expo in Hong Kong, Scantherma took on its biggest and most unique challenge yet.
“We were contacted by a very large insurance company which might have a big bailout because of this missing plane,” he said.
The Perth company was commissioned to use its “object-based image analysis” software to comb through hundreds of satellite images containing potential wreckage. They analysed 437 images of debris in the original southern Indian Ocean search area, before shifting their focus north-east last Wednesday based on ocean current data. Two days later, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority announced a new 319,000sq km search area in the same region.
“There was plenty of debris in those first 437 images but it wasn’t from the plane,” he said. “It was mostly white caps and sea junk. Global shipping lanes pass through that area to the south of Western Australia.
“What (AMSA) is doing is terrific because they’ve only got finite resources. Our stuff is done on computer but it takes four hours just for the planes to get out there.
“It’s just such a vast area. We’re in mining so we say it’s like trying to find Lasseter’s Reef.”
Mr Farhand said the insurance company was expected to call off the search this weekend when the plane’s black box was due to run out of battery. But for now, four US and Japanese satellites are scanning a search area nearly four times larger than AMSA’s site.
He said Scantherma’s chief remote sensing analyst was stationed in Florianopolis, Brazil, ready to identify any signs of MH370 in the next set of images.
“It’s been incredible. Most of the work we do is for mining companies, so it’s been terrific to be able to use this technology for a humanitarian purpose,” he said. “As a society, I think we need to embrace these types of technologies more.”