Underwater vehicle to search seabed for MH370 clues

Search teams will use the autonomous subversive vehicle to continue search operations, because chances are the black box's batteries have expired and will not transmit any more pings.
By Ananth Baliga  |  April 14, 2014 at 8:00 AM
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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 14 (UPI) -- Search teams will now use a robotic subversive vehicles to scour the seabed for any signs of wreckage from missing aircraft Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Search efforts in the last 10 days have centered around using towed ping locators to listen for signals coming from the black box of MH370. But authorities are worried that the black box's batteries may have expired, as the last ping heard was on April 8. A black box typically has a battery life of a month, and since it's been over a month since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, search teams have decided to change their tactics.

“It is time to go underwater,” the lead coordinator, Angus Houston, said at a news conference in Perth, Australia.

International teams have focused their search west of Perth, with teams using suspected pings from the black box and satellite data to narrow down the search area.

"Analysis of the four signals has allowed the provisional definition of a reduced and manageable search area on the ocean floor," Houston said.

The Bluefin-21 will be deployed to search for the wreckage on the ocean floor. Bluefin-21 is a 16-foot autonomous vehicle that can create a sonar map of the ocean bed.

Houston said that they needed to be realistic and not overoptimistic, and that the search could be a long, painstaking process that could yield, in the end, no results.

Bluefin is not the fastest underwater vehicle and can cover 12-square miles a day, with the official search area being possibly hundreds of square miles. The ocean floor in the area of the pings is around 2.8 miles deep, putting the search at the limit of Bluefin's diving range.

Flight MH370 has been missing since March 8 with 239 people onboard. The plane was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with air traffic controllers and went off course, instead heading toward the South Indian Ocean.

[BBC] [The New York Times]

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