Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the
search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said the month-long hunt
in the Indian Ocean was at a critical stage given the batteries in
the black box beacons had already reached the end of their 30-day
A U.S. Navy "towed pinger locator" onboard Australia's Ocean Shield
picked up two signals consistent with black box locator beacons over
the weekend — the first for more than two hours and the second for
about 13 minutes.
Houston said the signals represented the best lead in the search
yet, but efforts to pick up the pings again had so far been
"If we don't get any further transmissions, we have a reasonably
large search area of the bottom of the ocean to prosecute and that
will take a long, long time. It's very slow, painstaking work," said
The black boxes record cockpit data and may provide answers about
what happened to the plane, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12
crew when it vanished on March 8 and flew thousands of kilometers
off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.
Authorities say evidence, including the loss of communications,
suggests the plane was deliberately diverted by someone familiar
with the aircraft, but have not ruled out mechanical problems.
Analysis of satellite data led investigators to conclude the Boeing
777 came down in an area some 1,680 km (1,040 miles) northwest of
Perth, near where possible pings were picked up and the search is
BLUEFIN ON HOLD
An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) named Bluefin-21 is onboard
the Ocean Shield and could be sent to look for wreckage on the sea
floor, but narrowing the search zone first was critical, Houston
"It is a large area for a small submersible that has a very narrow
field of search, and of course, it is literally crawling along the
bottom of the ocean," he said.
"That's why it's so important to get another transmission and we
need to continue until there's absolutely no chance the (black box)
device is still transmitting."
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The Bluefin will scour the ocean floor in 20-hour missions using
sonar in an attempt to find the aircraft, before its findings are
downloaded and analyzed on board the Ocean Shield.
If anything unusual is spotted, the sonar on board the robotic
vehicle will be replaced with a camera to take a closer look. The
potential search area is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) deep, the outer
reach of the Bluefin's range.
Some 133 missions have been completed so far in the multinational
aerial hunt for debris in the southern Indian Ocean and would
continue, officials said.
Up to 11 military planes, three civilian planes and 14 ships planned
to take part in the search on Tuesday, with good weather in the
search area. But so far, searchers have only turned up fishing gear
and other detritus.
"Even after the black box is found, the surface search will continue
because they're looking for evidence to investigate why the aircraft
went down," Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz, the officer in charge
of U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon search unit, told Reuters.
"So, we'll continue for a while trying to find anything on the
surface that might give a reasoning behind the accident."
(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Anuradha Raghu
in Kuala Lumpur; editing by Dean Yates and Michael Perry)
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