Search for missing Malaysia plane set to move to sea floor

SYDNEY/PERTH, Australia Mon Apr 7, 2014 7:48pm EDT

1 of 10. Crew aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Success watch as a helicopter participates in a Replenishment at Sea evolution with the Royal Malaysian Navy ship KD LEKIU in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 7, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Australian Defence Force/Handout via Reuters

SYDNEY/PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - A robotic search vehicle is likely to be sent deep into the Indian Ocean on Tuesday to look for wreckage of a missing Malaysian jetliner on the sea floor, as officials say the chance of finding anything on the surface has dwindled.

Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said the month-long hunt was at a critical stage given the black box recorder batteries were dying - or had died.

An Australian ship that picked up signals consistent with the beacons from aircraft black box recorders over the weekend had not registered any further pulses, Houston said.

"The locator beacon has a shelf life of 30 days and we are now passed that time and as a consequence there is a chance that the locator beacon is about to cease transmission, or has ceased transmission," Houston told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

"It's all very finely balanced and I think it's absolutely imperative to find something else."

Houston said the chance of finding anything on the surface was greatly diminished due to strong currents and a cyclone that had passed through the area in the past week.

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 have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause of the plane's disappearance but say evidence, including loss of communications, suggests it was deliberately diverted.

A U.S. Navy "towed pinger locator", which has been trawling an area some 1,680 km (1,040 miles) northwest of Perth, picked up two "ping" signal detections over the weekend - the first for more than two hours and the second for about 13 minutes.

Houston said the Australian ship Ocean Shield was still pulling the pinger locator in an effort to regain contact but would likely move quickly to remove that equipment and instead send down an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) named Bluefin-21.

The Bluefin will scour the ocean floor in 20-hour missions using sonar in an attempt to find the Boeing 777, 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 was 4.5 km (2.8 miles) deep, the same as the Bluefin range.

Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur he was "cautiously hopeful" that the signals picked up would lead to a positive finding soon.

DIFFICULT SEARCH

Houston said he was confident the search teams were looking in the right area, based on analysis of sporadic radar and satellite data.

"We are pretty confident that we are in the right area because the calculations of the search area are right where we are picking up these transmissions," Houston said, adding that a decision to deploy the Bluefin would be made later on Tuesday.

"We've probably got to about that stage now," he said.

It could be several days before the Bluefin had anything to report.

"Nothing happens fast when you're working at depths of 4,500 meters," Houston said. "It's a long, painstaking process, particularly when you start searching the ocean floor."

Up to eleven military planes, three civilian planes and 14 ships will take part in the search on Tuesday, with the Australian coordination centre reporting good weather in the search area.

A second search area was being maintained in waters where a Chinese vessel had also picked up "ping" signals at the weekend in an area more than 300 nautical miles from the latest signals.

Chinese patrol ship the Haixun 01 reported receiving a pulse signal with a frequency of 37.5 kHz, consistent with the signal emitted by flight recorders, on Friday and again on Saturday.

Houston said the Chinese and Australian discoveries of pings were consistent with work done on analyzing radar and satellite data but the Ocean Shield's leads were now the most promising.

Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information. Most of the 227 passengers were Chinese.

(Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Dean Yates)

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Comments (10)
Vahlsing wrote:
If the airline companies would install WI-FI for all us so we can keep in touch with family and friends during the flight; and include live streaming cameras with audio throughout each commercial airliner from nose tip to tail including the cockpits we would never lose an aircraft again. Plus, someone could setup an “AirlinerWebCam.com” showing 15,000 airliners on a social type website. Just think of the advertisements the site could generate (and lots a moolah). …and the only reason I see that the pilots would want to keep the cameras out of the cockpit is because they either are not doing their job or their having high sky copulation with a co-worker in the cockpit.
…and if we as consumers that use commercial airline travel want a safe future; we must look towards the insurance companies to force all airline companies to use (install) any and all technologies (trackers and cameras with audio, WI-FI, etc, throughout) on their airplanes now and in the future… and Boeing (etc.) should not sell to any consumer any airplanes without these technologies included in their overall products.
Airline companies cannot continue to run on “cheap and greed” logistics that put their consumers at risk for injury.

Apr 07, 2014 8:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Vahlsing wrote:
The airliner 370 landed and or crashed into the Indian Ocean at around 8am in the morning on March 8. It was daylight. I don’t know the weather conditions for that hour on that day; otherwise if it was a nice clam day, the aircraft might have had a soft landing and might be pretty much intact.
I would like to know if a Boeing 777 can land without human intervention on autopilot alone; and would it be a soft landing even when the engines have depleted their fuel and the aircraft is gliding (would it lower its flaps on approach, etc.); would the autopilot put down the landing gear on approach (or would the landing gear stay up)? Scenario / circumstances: If no one was alive to fly the airliner 370 when it landed on the Indian Ocean????
Boeing 777 Fuel Burn Charts
Altitude: 12000 ft.
Indicated Airspeed: 250 KIAS
True Airspeed: 310 KTAS
Fuel Burn PPH/Eng: 6,600

Apr 07, 2014 8:05am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Anthonykovic wrote:
No mention in the news if any submarines are involved in the search. Nuclear subs can go down to 800 feet and travel at 40 kmh for months at a time.

Apr 07, 2014 8:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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