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Time running out as underwater search begins for black box of Malaysian plane

Perth, Apr 4 (PTI) : The arduous hunt for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 entered a new phase on Friday with two hi-tech ships scouring a large area in the Indian Ocean for the black box of the jet before pings from it fall silent.

Two naval ships with locator capabilities are searching a 240km underwater path, in the hope of recovering the plane's data recorder that could help investigators unravel the mystery of what happened on March 8, the day the Beijing-bound plane dropped off radars.

Up to 14 planes and nine ships are participating in Friday's search for the Boeing 777-200.

The British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo and the Australian naval supply ship Ocean Shield began searching the ocean's depths on Friday, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Perth-based Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), said.

The Ocean Shield is equipped with high-tech gear borrowed from the United States: the TPL-25, a giant underwater microphone that will listen for the pings from the flight data recorders, and the Bluefin-21, an underwater robot that can scour the ocean bed for signs of wreckage. The HMS Echo also has advanced sensor equipment.

But the area of the southern Indian Ocean where British and Australian naval ships are deploying sophisticated listening technology remains nothing more than a guess at where the plane may have hit the water, CNN said.

Time is running out in the efforts to detect the pings as the batteries that power the recorders' beacons are expected to expire in the next four days.

Nearly four weeks have passed since the jetliner vanished with 239 people on board.

Investigators are still stumped by the case as there are no signs of debris. The area chosen for the search operation is based on the analysis of radar, satellite and other data that led the investigators to conclude that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

”The area of highest probability as to where the aircraft might have entered the water is the area where the underwater search will commence,” Houston said at a news conference.

”It's on the basis of data that arrived only recently, and it's the best data that is available.”

”On best advice, the locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions, so we're now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire,” he said.

Until searchers can find a confirmed piece of debris from the plane, which would give them a clearer idea of where the main bits of wreckage might be located, there is no certainty of finding the black box.