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 U.S. Navy's sophisticated Blue-fin
21 autonomous underwater vehicle, which is set to search the ocean
floor for wreckage some 4.5 kms (2.8 miles) 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
Searchers are confident they know the approximate position of
wreckage of the Boeing 777, some 1,550 km (963 miles) 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 U.S. 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
If it detects possible wreckage, it will be sent back to photograph
it in underwater conditions with extremely low light.
Building up the necessary mosaic of thousands of high-definition
photos in the undersea gloom can be a long and frustrating task, a
point Houston reiterated on Monday, citing the extremely large,
remote and deep search area.
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Officials are currently focusing their acoustic search on an area
about the size of a medium city — 600 sq km (230 sq miles) — and say
it could take the underwater robot months to scan and map the whole
"I would just say to everybody, don't be over optimistic, be
realistic and let's hope, let's hope that that very strong signal
that we were receiving is actually coming from the black box,"
The mystery of Malaysian Airlines MH370 has sparked what is on track
to be the most difficult and expensive search and recovery operation
in aviation history. Up to a dozen planes and 15 ships will be
searching in three separate areas on Monday.
Malaysian authorities have still not ruled out mechanical problems
as causing the plane's disappearance, but say evidence suggests it
was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur
Houston added that although an oil slick was located in the search
area on Sunday evening, he was pessimistic about the likelihood of
finding anything floating on the ocean surface after this amount of
"The chances of any floating material being recovered have greatly
diminished, and it will be appropriate to confer with Australia's
partners to decide the way ahead later this week," he said.
(Reporting by Matt Siegel; editing by Michael Perry)
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