* Search focused on 10 km radius of sea floor
* Search in narrowed area to last about a week
* Malaysia says search at "very critical juncture"
* US Navy robot sub testing record depth limits
By Matt Siegel and Byron Kaye
SYDNEY/PERTH, Australia, April 19 The current
underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight
MH370, focused on a tight 10 km (6.2 mile) circle of the sea
floor, could be completed within a week, Australian search
officials said on Saturday.
Malaysia said the search was at a "very critical juncture"
and asked for prayers for its success.
A U.S. Navy deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is
scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of
the plane, which disappeared from radars on March 8 with 239
people on board.
After almost two months without a sign of wreckage, the
current underwater search has been narrowed to a small area
around the location in which one of four acoustic signals
believed to be from the plane's black box recorders was detected
on April 8, officials said.
"Provided the weather is favourable for launch and recovery
of the AUV and we have a good run with the serviceability of the
AUV, we should complete the search of the focused underwater
area in five to seven days," the Joint Agency Coordination
Centre told Reuters in an email.
Officials did not indicate whether they were confident that
this search area would yield any new information about the
flight, nor did they state what steps they would take in the
event that the underwater search were to prove fruitless.
More than two dozen countries have been involved in the hunt
for the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar shortly into a
Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight in what officials believe was a
Weeks of daily sorties have failed to turn up any trace of
the plane, even after narrowing the search to an arc in the
southern Indian Ocean, making this the most expensive such
operation in aviation history.
"It is important to focus on today and tomorrow. Narrowing
of the search area today and tomorrow is at a very critical
juncture," Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin
Hussein told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur, asking for
people to pray for success.
Malaysia was asking oil companies and others in the
commercial sector to provide assets that might help in the
search, Hishammuddin added, after earlier saying more AUVs might
DRONE GOES DEEPER THAN EVER BEFORE
After almost two weeks without picking up any acoustic
signals, and long past the black box battery's 30-day life
expectancy, authorities are increasingly reliant on the $4
million U.S. Bluefin-21 drone, which on Saturday was expected to
have dived to unprecedented depths.
Because visual searches of the ocean surface have yielded no
concrete evidence, the drone, with its ability to search deep
beneath the ocean surface with "side scan" sonar, has become the
focal point of the search 2,000 km (1,200 miles) northwest of
the Australian city of Perth.
The search has thus far centred on a city-sized area where a
series of "pings" led authorities to believe the plane's black
box may be located. The current refined search area is based on
one such transmission.
After the drone's searches were frustrated by an automatic
safety mechanism which returns it to the surface when it exceeds
a depth of 4.5 km (14,763 feet), authorities have adjusted the
mechanism and have sent it as deep as 4,695 metres (15,403
feet), a record for the machine.
But hopes that it might soon guide searchers to wreckage are
dwindling with no sign of the plane after six deployments
spanning 133 square kilometres (83 square miles). Footage from
the drone's sixth mission was still being analysed, the Joint
Agency Coordination Centre said on Saturday.
On Monday, the search coordinator, retired Air Chief Marshal
Angus Houston, said the air and surface search for debris would
likely end by midweek as the operation shifted its focus to the
But the air and surface searches have continued daily, and
on Saturday the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said up to 11
military aircraft and 12 ships would help with the Saturday's
search covering about 50,200 square kilometres (31,000 square
miles) across three areas.
"The search will always continue," Hishammuddin said. "It's
just a matter of approach."
(Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)