Un­der­wa­ter drone to in­ves­ti­gate sonar con­tacts in MH370 hunt

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

A ship in­volved with the deep-sea sonar search for miss­ing Malaysia Air­lines Flight 370 is be­ing fit­ted with a drone that will ex­am­ine sev­eral sonar con­tacts of in­ter­est on the re­mote seabed west of Australia, of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day.

None of the sonar con­tacts ex­hibit the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a typ­i­cal air­craft de­bris field, said the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau, which is head­ing up the hunt for the Boe­ing 777 in a des­o­late stretch of the In­dian Ocean. But some of the con­tacts do ex­hibit man-made prop­er­ties and there­fore must be in­ves­ti­gated be­fore they can be elim­i­nated as hav­ing come from the plane, the agency said in a state­ment.

Of­fi­cials have pre­vi­ously said that more than 20 sonar con­tacts that crews have picked up in re­cent months re­quire closer ex­am­i­na­tion by a sonar-equipped un­der­wa­ter drone. They are be­tween 2,700 kilo­me­tres and 1,900 kilo­me­tres from the Aus­tralian port of Fre­man­tle where the search ships are based.

Poor weather dur­ing the south­ern hemi­sphere win­ter has, un­til now, pre­vented the ships from de­ploy­ing the drone. With the weather im­prov­ing, the Chi­nese ves­sel Dong Hai Jiu 101 is be­ing fit­ted with a video cam­era-equipped re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle that will scru­ti­nize the sonar con­tacts.

Crews have picked up hun­dreds of sonar con­tacts of in­ter­est through­out the two-year hunt. The con­tacts are grouped into three clas­si­fi­ca­tion lev­els based on their like­li­hood of be­ing linked to the plane. Con­tacts dubbed “clas­si­fi­ca­tion 1” are con­sid­ered the most likely to have come from the air­craft. None of the re­cent sonar con­tacts that the drone will in­ves­ti­gate are clas­si­fi­ca­tion 1. There have only been two con­tacts that fit into that cat­e­gory thus far; one turned out to be an old ship­wreck, and the other was a rock field.

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