Bluefin patrols seabed as surface debris hopes fade
A deep-sea drone completed its first full scan of the seabed in the remote Indian Ocean, the team looking for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 said on Thursday, as an air and surface search became less likely to yield results.
Footage from a US navy drone is becoming the most important tool for a multinational team searching for MH370, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, including 154 Chinese passengers, Reuters reported.
A series of “pings” recorded this month have led searchers to the remote stretch of ocean west of the Australian city of Perth, in the belief that the signals may have come from the plane’s black box recorders.
But with no pings received in more than a week and the black box’s battery 10 days past its approximate expiration date, authorities are relying on the drone.
The Bluefin-21 drone completed its first full 16-hour deployment at a depth of 4.5 km late on Wednesday after a series of technical problems cut short the first two attempts.
“Bluefin-21 has searched approximately 90 square kilometers to date, and the data from its latest mission is being analyzed,” the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, the body running the search, said in a statement.
The US navy has estimated it would take the sophisticated device “anywhere from six weeks to two months to scan the entire search area”, AFP reported.
Experts from around the world have said that in all likelihood, the final moments of battery life of the Boeing’s black box recorders were ticking away somewhere at the bottom of an ocean dotted with underwater volcanic activity and perilous topside conditions, Xinhua News Agency reported.
On Monday, search coordinator Angus Houston said the air and surface search for debris would likely end in three days as the operation shifted its focus to the largely unmapped area of ocean floor. But authorities said on Thursday up to 10 military aircraft, two civil aircraft and 11 ships would still search an area totaling about 40,000 sq km, Reuters reported.
That would suggest searchers, under pressure from the families of those on board the plane, still hold some hope of finding floating wreckage.
But an oil slick sighted during the sea search did not come from the plane, AFP quoted officials as saying on Thursday, dashing hopes of finding a definitive answer to the fate of the jet.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quoted by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday as saying that “we believe that the (underwater) search will be completed within a week or so. If we don’t find wreckage, we stop, we regroup, we reconsider”.
Asked by Reuters on Thursday to clarify Abbott’s comments to the newspaper, his office said he was only suggesting that authorities may change the area being searched by the Bluefin-21 drone, not that the search would be called off.
Malaysia’s defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, vowed that the search would continue even if there could be a pause to regroup and reconsider the best area to scour.
“The search will always continue. It’s just a matter of approach,” he told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The Bluefin-21 unmanned mini-sub is craned over the side of the Australian navy’s OceanShield in the southern Indian Ocean to search for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Thursday. The US navy says the sub will need six weeks to two months to scan the area.