Crew aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Success watch as
a helicopter participates in a Replenishment at Sea
evolution with the Royal Malaysian Navy ship KD LEKIU
during the search for the missing airliner.
REUTERS/Australian Defence Force
A robotic search vehicle is likely to be sent deep into
the Indian Ocean today to look for wreckage of a missing
Malaysian jetliner on the sea floor, as officials say the
chance of finding anything on the surface has dwindled.
Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the
search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said the
month-long hunt was at a critical stage given the black box
recorder batteries were dying - or had died.
An Australian ship that picked up signals consistent with the
beacons from aircraft black box recorders over the weekend
had not registered any further pulses, Houston said.
"The locator beacon has a shelf life of 30 days and we are
now past that time and as a consequence there is a chance
that the locator beacon is about to cease transmission, or
has ceased transmission," Houston told Australian
Broadcasting Corp radio.
"It's all very finely balanced and I think it's absolutely
imperative to find something else."
Houston said the chance of finding anything on the surface
was greatly diminished due to strong currents and a cyclone
that had passed through the area in the past week.
The black boxes record cockpit data and may provide answers
about what happened to the plane, which was carrying 227
passengers and 12 crew when it vanished on March 8 and flew
thousands of kilometres off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause
of the plane's disappearance but say evidence, including loss
of communications, suggests it was deliberately diverted.
A U.S. Navy "towed pinger locator", which has been trawling
an area some 1,680 km (1,040 miles) northwest of Perth,
picked up two "ping" signal detections over the weekend - the
first for more than two hours and the second for about 13
Houston said the Australian ship Ocean Shield was still
pulling the pinger locator in an effort to regain contact but
would likely move quickly to remove that equipment and
instead send down an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)
The Bluefin will scour the ocean floor in 20-hour missions
using sonar in an attempt to find the Boeing 777, before its
findings are downloaded and analysed on board the Ocean
If anything unusual is spotted, the sonar on board the
robotic vehicle will be replaced with a camera to take a
closer look. The potential search area was 4.5 km (2.8 miles)
deep, the same as the Bluefin range.
Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein,
told reporters in Kuala Lumpur he was "cautiously hopeful"
that the signals picked up would lead to a positive finding
Houston said he was confident the search teams were looking
in the right area, based on analysis of sporadic radar and
"We are pretty confident that we are in the right area
because the calculations of the search area are right where
we are picking up these transmissions," Houston said, adding
that a decision to deploy the Bluefin would be made later on
"We've probably got to about that stage now," he said.
It could be several days before the Bluefin had anything to
"Nothing happens fast when you're working at depths of 4,500
metres," Houston said. "It's a long, painstaking process,
particularly when you start searching the ocean floor."
Up to eleven military planes, three civilian planes and 14
ships will take part in the search on Tuesday, with the
Australian coordination centre reporting good weather in the
A second search area was being maintained in waters where a
Chinese vessel had also picked up "ping" signals at the
weekend in an area more than 300 nautical miles from the
Chinese patrol ship the Haixun 01 reported receiving a pulse
signal with a frequency of 37.5 kHz, consistent with the
signal emitted by flight recorders, on Friday and again on
Houston said the Chinese and Australian discoveries of pings
were consistent with work done on analysing radar and
satellite data but the Ocean Shield's leads were now the most
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism,
particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and
holding back information. Most of the 227 passengers were