Bluefin pa­trols seabed as sur­face de­bris hopes fade

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA and AGENCIES

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.

AUS­TRALIAN DE­FENCE FORCE / HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

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.

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