Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger Locator
will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield, searching a
converging course on a 240 km (150 miles) track with British
hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.
"The area of highest probability as to where the aircraft might have
entered the water is the area where the underwater search will
commence," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the
Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters in
"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."
On Monday it will be 30 days since the jetliner lost communications
and disappeared from civilian radar less than an hour into an
overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other
side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic
"handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led investigators to
conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours
Sonar may help find the plane's black box voice and data recorders
that are key to unlocking what happened on the flight. The black box
is equipped with a locator beacon that transmits "pings" when
underwater, but which only has an expected battery life of around 30
Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of little use
unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the
plane went into water, because its limited range and the slow speed
at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover
large areas of ocean quickly.
Houston said the start of the underwater search in earnest did not
override the need to keep searching for surface wreckage of the
plane, as a find would be the most effective way to pinpoint a
"This is a vast area, an area that's quite remote. We will continue
the surface search for a good deal more time," he said.
"I think there's still a great possibility of finding something on
the surface," he said. "There's lots of things in aircraft that
float. In previous searches life jackets have appeared which can be
connected to the aircraft that was lost."
[to top of second column]
HUGE SEARCH AREA
On Friday, up to 14 planes and nine ships were scouring the search
area of about 223,000 sq km (86,000 sq miles) — roughly the size of
the U.S. state of Minnesota — some 1,680 km (1,040 miles)
west-north-west of Perth, he said.
Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear
submarine with sonar capabilities and a Malaysian frigate was due to
arrive in the search area on Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday joined his
Australian counterpart Tony Abbott in a tour of RAAF Base Pearce,
near Perth, where aircrews from seven countries have been flying
dozens of missions deep into the southern Indian Ocean.
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from
China, for mismanaging the search, now in its fourth fruitless week,
and holding back information. Most of the 239 people on board the
flight were Chinese.
"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very confident
we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations;
that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the
families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," Najib
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the
disappearance, but say all the evidence suggests the plane was
deliberately diverted from its scheduled route.
Malaysia's police chief said the investigation was focusing on the
cabin crew and pilots, after clearing all 227 passengers of possible
involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or
psychological problems that could have been connected to the
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur and Jane Wardell in Sydney;
writing by Jane Wardell; editing by Alex
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