Missing Jet Black Box Search Heads To Ocean Floor

Posted: Apr 14 2014, 4:15am CDT | by , in Technology News


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Missing Jet Black Box Search Heads To Ocean Floor
Photo Credit: Forbes

On day 38 of the search for the missing Malaysian Boeing 777-200, Australian authorities are now taking their efforts as far underwater as possible. That is, using the U.S. Navy’s autonomous underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-21, and its side-scan sonar to probe as deep as 4500 meters (14,760 ft) below the southern Indian Ocean search area.

“We haven’t had a single [electronic ping] detection in six days,” Ret. RAAF Air Marshal Angus Houston told reporters when asked about the failing black boxes’ lack of recent pinger beacons. “So, null

But as Houston explained, analysis of the four putative signal pings thought to be from MH370’s two black boxes has allowed for what he termed a “provisional definition of a reduced and manageable” ocean floor search area.

“Our concept always was that if we did get an area that we can identify from an acoustic search, that eventually we would go underwater,” Houston said at a Perth press conference.

Yet Houston again stressed that even though the Bluefin-21 can produce high resolution, three dimensional maps of the seafloor, the search for the aircraft’s ocean-floor wreckage will not only be long and painstaking, but also may not bear fruit.

Each of the Bluefin-21’s missions will take a minimum of 24 hours to complete — four hours up and back, 16 hours on task near the ocean floor; then an additional four hours for the Bluefin-21’s data to be downloaded and analyzed.

The AUV’s first mission is expected to cover some 40 sq km (15.4 sq mi).

Houston said that the British oceanographic vessel the HMS Echo, would assist in mapping the poorly-constrained ocean bottom search area. However, Houston indicated at the press conference that the terrain is thought to be more “flat and almost rolling” than “sharply mountainous.”

Still, Houston cautioned that from previous mapping work done from a few years back, that this part of the southern Indian Ocean is thought to have quite “a layer of [deep] silt” on the sea bottom, which potentially could complicate the submersible’s search efforts.

Houston also noted that the Australian Defence Vessel (ADV) Ocean Shield had detected an oil slick Sunday evening local time, some 5500 meters (3.4 mi) “down-wind and down-sea” from where the U.S Navy’s Towed Pinger Locator (TPL-25) had detected the most recent electronic pings. Houston noted that some two liters of the oil had been collected for analysis — a process that would “take a number of days” since it needed to be done on shore.

“…the only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity,” Houston told reporters. “So, we will investigate those to their conclusion.”

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