Sydney/Perth, April 14 (Reuters): A US Navy underwater drone will be deployed to scour the floor of the Indian Ocean for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, search officials said today, launching a new phase of the operation after nearly six weeks of fruitless searching.
The hunt for flight MH370 will head deep underwater as the batteries in the flight’s black box recorders had probably died and there was little chance of finding floating debris, said Australian search chief Angus Houston.
The search is now relying on the US Navy’s sophisticated Blue-fin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle, which is set to search the ocean floor for wreckage some 4.5km beneath the surface.
The aircraft disappeared soon after taking off on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, triggering a multinational search that is now focused on the Indian Ocean.
Searchers are confident they know the approximate position of wreckage of the Boeing 777, some 1,550km northwest of Perth, and are moving ahead on the basis of four acoustic signals they believe are from its black box recorders. “Despite the lack of further detections, the four signals previously acquired taken together constitute the most promising lead we have in the search for MH370,” Houston told reporters in Perth.
“The experts have therefore determined that the Australian Ocean Shield will cease searching with a towed pinger locator later today and deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle, ‘Bluefin-21’, as soon as possible,” he said, referring to the US Navy device designed to detect the tell-tale “pings”. The batteries in the black boxes are now two weeks past their 30-day expected life and searchers will be relying on sonar and cameras on the Bluefin-21 drone.
An aircraft's black box records data from the cockpit and conversations among flight crew and may provide answers about what happened to the missing plane. The Blue-fin robot will build up a detailed acoustic image of the area using sophisticated “sidescan” sonar, hoping to repeat its success in finding a F-15 fighter jet which crashed off Japan last year.