Saturday, December 9

Hyperspectral imaging: Tracking down lost Malaysian aircraft


Dr Kamaruzaman shows his writing and journal during ab interview about aircraft search and rescue (SAR) missions. — Bernama photo

KUALA LUMPUR: When it comes to locating missing aircraft in Malaysia, Prof Dr Kamaruzaman Jusoff is the go-to guy.

He is the first person to develop the airborne hyperspectral imaging system and applications in the country and has been attached with the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas)’s Faculty of Resource Science and Technology for the past two years.

The affable Kamaruzaman is, however, modest about his achievements and prefers to work behind the scenes during aircraft search and rescue (SAR) missions in the country.

His first case was the SAR operation for the missing Bell 206 Long Ranger helicopter in Bario, Sarawak in 2004, in which he worked at locating using near real-time airborne hyperspectral imagine system.

His next cases include tracking down other aircraft such as the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Hawk jet that went missing on June 1, 2006 in Mersing, the RMAF Nuri helicopter that went missing in Genting Sempah on July 13, 2007 and the MH370 Malaysia Airlines aircraft that has yet to be found after it disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014.


Hyperspectral imaging

Born 61 years ago in Kota Baharu, Kelantan, Kamaruzaman 0btained his doctorate in Forest Surveying Engineering from Cranfield University, England under the sponsorship of Overseas Research Students Award (ORS), Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, United Kingdom.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he tried to apply his expertise in Applied Remote Sensing Technology locally but found the country’s topography to pose a bit of a challenge. The tropical rainforests and thick fog made it difficult for cloud-height sensors to collect necessary data.

Kamaruzaman then discovered that the best way to overcome the obstacle was to bring the sensor down below cloud level. Thus was borne the idea of airborne imaging where the sensors were modified and attached to aircraft like RMAF’s Cessna.

Using a hyperspectral technology that he developed in 1994, he was able to detect objects that are typically difficult to trace.

The 15kg sensor was light and portable enough to be carried onto an aircraft to retrieve and collect the ‘spectral signatures’ or ‘DNA’ of every object found during a SAR operation. These data would be analysed once the aircraft has landed.

If the DNA of the object found is within the database, the search becomes easier because the process of matching the DNA with the corresponding object becomes faster.

“Every time I fly, I would keep the data of every object found because the DNA for each object is unique. My spectrum data library currently keeps the DNA of several aircraft including those belonging to the Boeing 777, Boeing 737, RMAF’s Nuri TUDM and their Hawk jet fighter. If one of these aircraft goes missing, the search will become easier because their DNA is stored in the library,” he told Bernama in an interview recently.

He obtained most of the aircraft DNA from previous SAR missions but told Bernama that obtaining them was no easy task.

“Any access to aircraft DNA given by the armed forces would have been most helpful in expediting the discovery of the missing aircraft,” he explained.


SAR experience

Kamaruzaman said his involvement with the SAR operation of the missing Bell 206 Long Ranger helicopter in Bario was more of a coincidence.

He was in Sabah at the time, helping out with an operation to track down using the airborne hyperspectral imaging system the ‘bot pancung’ (a type of speedboat) used by to smuggle cigarettes into the nearby islands.

The helicopter had been missing for a week when he received the instruction to go to Bario, Sarawak to help locate the missing helicopter, its pilot and six passengers near the foot of the Gunung Murud.

At that point, the police, armed forces and fire department had already been deployed on a SAR mission involving the use of 20 aircraft including Nuri, Black Hawk from Brunei, PC Orient from the US and Mil-8 from Russia. The locals from around the area had also joined in the search.

Two days before the helicopter was found (on day 14), Kamaruzaman said that a religious expert had advised him to relook a route that had been previously searched.

He did as was advised and with the help on another religious expert, he was able to locate the aircraft on the last day of the search.

“It made me realise that all these state-of-the art human-made technology is nothing compared to God’s power.

”We have combed through the same route from day 1 to 16 but were not able to locate the helicopter until that last day. It is a mystery but we need to trust in God’s all-encompassing wisdom,” said Kamaruzaman.

His second mission was the search of RMAF’s Hawk 208 which went missing in the waters of Mersing in June of 2006. He was called to lead the SAR mission based on his experience in Bario-Ba Kelalan, Sarawak.

“There were several standard procedures that needed to be adhered to seeing as the aircraft belonged to RMAF. I was instructed to fly over the South China Sea in search of the aircraft for nearly a week.

“Based on my experienced with the Bario-Ba Kelalan case, I knew that the missing aircraft could not be far from where it disappeared from radar. When I was finally allowed to search where I wished, I retraced the Flight Path Line where the Hawk was last spotted on radar.

“I found an anomaly off the coast of Pantai Lanjut in Rompin. By God’s will, the helicopter was found some 150m from the beach on the 26th day,” he recalled.



The story behind the missing Malaysian aircraft MH370 remains a mystery, especially after the Malaysian government decided to call off the search at the Indian Ocean in May 2018, after four years of fruitless search.

The commercial aircraft carrying 239 passengers disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014.

“The report on the search was inconclusive and as such, we don’t know where it is and we cannot blame anyone for what happened.

“However, a question that keeps nagging at me is if it was true that the aircraft made an ‘air turning back (ATB)’. If that did happen, where is the proof?” he asked.

Recounting the early days of the search, Kamaruzaman said: “I was roped in to help with the SAR mission on the eighth day after it went missing, if I am not mistaken.

“After I related to them my experience with three other missing aircraft, I was asked to go down to the location in which I believed the aircraft to be.”

He flew down to the location the next day, along with a religious expert.

After an initial survey, he flew to the location the second time and used hyperspectral imaging sensors with the aid of a ‘spiritual’ expert to help ‘uncover’ the location of the aircraft.

He went down to the location the third time to perform a search via air and sea.

Kamaruzaman recorded the coordinates of the location where he believed the aircraft to be located but said that despite turning in his research, findings and observations, there had been no effort to search in the location until today.

He claimed that as with his previous experiences tracking down missing aircraft, MH370 did not crash but was instead ‘lost’. He believed the aircraft to be intact with only minor damage on the aircraft body.

“I believe that the aircraft ‘disappeared’ into a location and dimension but its fuselage and other components are intact.

“If the new Malaysian government wants to reopen the case, I am more than willing to share the relevant experience and expertise to help in the final search of MH370,” he said. — Bernama