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MH370 black-box hunt a race against time

Kuala Lumpur, April 3: With only days left before the batteries on the data and voice recorders of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were set to die, the multinational search force resumed its hunt at daybreak today.

Eight aircraft and nine ships swept a patch of the Indian Ocean about 1,689km west of Perth, Australia, and a British nuclear submarine prepared to join the hunt.

In the three-and-a-half weeks since the plane disappeared, the search — which has shifted its focus from the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand to the Strait of Malacca and, most recently, the southern Indian Ocean — has turned up no evidence of the Boeing 777-200.

The authorities want to get their hands on the plane’s recorders — or black boxes — hoping they might reveal the reason why the airliner suddenly veered from its scheduled flight path between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Beijing early on March 8 and instead flew south over the Indian Ocean where officials believe it crashed.

The black boxes emit pings that help searchers locate them, but those signals will stop sometime next week when the devices’ batteries are scheduled to die. At that point, the boxes will lie mute on the deep seabed, making their recovery far more difficult. While the retrieval of debris might help locate wreckage, experts advise that any floating items could have drifted perhaps hundreds of kilometres from the plane’s point of impact, diminishing their utility in the search.

If no debris is found, officials and experts warn, the plane may not be found for years, if ever. Investigators took nearly two years to find the black boxes of Air France Flight 447 after it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, even though it was travelling along a known path, and debris was recovered within several days.

Today, one of the search planes will drop marker buoys to track the ocean currents and their effect on possible debris.

After a couple of days of rough weather and high seas, the forecast for today was better, with visibility of about 12 miles, though some isolated showers were anticipated in the southern area of the search zone, said the Australian authorities coordinating the effort.

A British submarine, the HMS Tireless, was scheduled to join the hunt, though it was unclear when its mission would begin. It is outfitted with listening equipment that can help track the pings of the black boxes.

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia was in Western Australia today, the second day of a two-day visit to meet with his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and view operations at Pearce Air Force Base.

“This has been a remarkable effort, bringing together nations from around the world,” he said in a statement released by his office.

“The disappearance of MH370 has tested our collective resolve.”

Officials overseeing the search have increasingly sought to tamp down expectations that the plane might be located soon.

 
 
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