Robotic submarine deployed in search for Flight 370

2014-04-14 15:52

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Perth - Search crews sent a robotic submarine deep into the Indian Ocean for the first time on Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysian airliner after no signals from its black boxes were detected for six days.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick about 5 500m from the area where the last underwater sounds were detected, said Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

Crews have collected an oil sample and are sending it back to Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days. Houston said it does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

The unmanned underwater vehicle, the Bluefin 21, was launched from the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield, the US Navy said. The autonomous sub can create a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor.

The move comes after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with signals from an aircraft's black boxes, which record flight data and cockpit conversations. The devices emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but their batteries only last about a month and are now believed dead.

"Today is day 38 of the search," Houston told a news conference. "We haven't had a single detection in six days, so I guess it's time to go under water."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were "very confident" the four strong underwater signals that were detected were from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared on 8 March during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese.

Realistic

But Houston warned that while the signals are a promising lead, the public needs to be realistic about the challenges facing search crews in the extremely remote, deep patch of ocean - an area he called "new to man".

"I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not," Houston said. "However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasise that this will be a slow and painstaking process."

Houston, a retired Australian chief air marshal, called the search "one of the largest search and rescue, search and recovery operations that I've seen in my lifetime."

The Ocean Shield had been dragging a US Navy device called a towed pinger locator through the water to listen for any sounds from the black boxes' beacons.

The Bluefin sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and the two devices can't be used at the same time. Crews had been hoping to detect additional signals before sending down the sub, so they could triangulate the source and zero in on where the black boxes may be.

24 hours for each mission

The submarine will take 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the sea floor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download the data, Houston said. In its first deployment, it will search a 40km² section of sea floor.

The black boxes could contain the key to unravelling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and an analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don't know why.

A visual search for debris on the ocean surface continued on Monday over 47 600km² of water about 2 200km northwest of the west coast city of Perth. A total of 12 planes and 15 ships joined the search.

But Houston said the visual search operation will end in the next two to three days. Officials haven't found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and he said the chances that any would be found have "greatly diminished".

"We've got no visual objects," he said. "The only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity, so we will investigate those to their conclusion."

Complicating matters further is the depth of the ocean in the search area. The sea floor is about 4 500m below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. Officials are looking for other vehicles that could help to retrieve any wreckage that might be located.

Silt

Searchers are also contending with a thick layer of silt on the bottom that is tens of meters deep in places, which could hide debris that has sunk.

US Navy Captain Mark Matthews said the silt poses a challenge, but it does not make the mission impossible.

"Our experience shows that there will be some debris on top of the silt and you should be able to see indications of a debris field," Matthews said. "But every search is different."

A British vessel, the HMS Echo, has equipment that can help map the sea floor in the area, which is more flat and rolling than mountainous, Houston said.



- AP
Read more on:    australia  |  malaysia  |  malaysia airlines flight mh370
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Sport

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Mind power dominates and can help you to uncover things from a deeper level, but it can also create entanglements if you let your...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.