* Up to 13 planes, 11 ships to search Indian Ocean on
* Ships using sonar equipment now trying to find black boxes
* Australia vows to continue hunt for debris
* Plane's black box locator beacon battery life running out
By Swati Pandey
PERTH, April 5 Four weeks after the
disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner,
searchers on Saturday launched the most intensive hunt yet in
the southern Indian Ocean, trying to find the plane's black box
recorders before their batteries run out.
Up to 10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships
will scour a 217,000-sq-km (88,000-sq-mile) patch of desolate
ocean some 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Perth near where
investigators believe the plane went down on March 8 with the
loss of all 239 people on board.
"If we haven't found anything in six weeks we will continue
because there are a lot of things in the aircraft that will
float," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the
Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters.
"Eventually I think something will be found that will help
us narrow the search area."
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a
cause but say the evidence, including the loss of
communications, suggests Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted
thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing.
Dozens of flights by a multinational taskforce have so far
failed to turn up any trace of the plane, and investigators
concede the task has been made more difficult by the lack of
The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military
radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent
hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led
investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west
Australian coast hours later.
Sonar equipment on two ships joining the search may help
find the plane's black box voice and data recorders that are key
to unlocking what happened on the flight. The black box is
equipped with a locator beacon that transmits "pings" when
underwater, but its batteries may only last 30 days.
Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger
Locator will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield,
searching a converging course on a 240-km (150-mile) track with
British hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.
Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of
little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of
exactly where the plane went into the water, because its limited
range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the
ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.
"I won't even call it an area. What we are doing is we are
tracking down the best estimate of the course that the aircraft
was on," U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews told Reuters. "It takes
a couple of days on each leg so its a slow-going search."
Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class
nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, and a Malaysian
frigate was due to arrive in the search area on Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Australian
counterpart, Tony Abbott, this week toured RAAF Base Pearce,
near Perth, from where aircrews seven countries have been
"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very
confident we will indeed show what we can do together as a group
of nations; that we want to find answers, that we want to
provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until
answers are indeed found," Najib said.
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 Niluksi Koswanage in KUALA LUMPUR and
Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by