While a massive air and sea search for missing Malaysian Airlines
flight MH370 is continuing almost 2,000 km (1,200 miles) off the
coast of Perth, hopes have been pinned on the Bluefin-21 autonomous
underwater vehicle finding the first concrete sign of the plane in
more than six weeks of hunting.
Malaysian authorities have still not ruled out mechanical problems
as causing the Boeing 777's disappearance, but say evidence suggests
it was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing.
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.
A unspecified technical problem meant the Bluefin resurfaced early
on Wednesday and analysis of the sonar data downloaded showed no
significant detections, the Australian agency leading the search
It has subsequently been relaunched to continue its search.
The drone was forced to end its first deployment early on Monday
after it exceeded its 4.5 km (14,750 feet) depth limit in the remote
stretch of ocean where search authorities believe the jetliner
crashed after its disappearance on March 8 with 239 people on board.
The introduction of the Bluefin marks a methodical, slower paced new
phase of the search, now in its 40th day and described by the search
coordinator, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, as the most
expensive in aviation history.
U.S. Naval personnel have said the drone could take up to two months
to scour a 600 sq km area where the plane is believed to have sunk.
The deep sea area now being searched, the Zenith Plateau, has never
been mapped in detail because it is not in any country's economic
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However the sea floor is likely covered in "foraminiferal ooze", a
sludge formed by microscopic marine organisms, which would show up
any large metallic object clearly, James Cook University marine
geologist Robin Beaman told Reuters.
"A sidescan is very good at detecting the difference in the acoustic
return of a hard object versus a soft, muddy sea floor," he said.
"This is quite a good environment for looking for wreck debris,
An air and sea search for floating debris continued on Wednesday,
but Houston has indicated that will soon end.
Up to 11 military aircraft, three civil aircraft and 11 ships would
help in Wednesday's search, covering a total area of about 55,151
square km in rainy conditions.
Authorities have targeted the remote stretch of ocean based on four
acoustic signals they believe are from the plane's black box
But they have not heard a "ping" for a week and with the batteries
on the locator beacons now 10 days past their 30-day expected life,
authorities have decided to stop searching using a Towed Pinger
Locator and to use the Bluefin instead.
(Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast
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