A Bluefin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle is hoisted on
board the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield.
REUTERS/US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st
Class Peter D. Blair
Australian officials leading the search for a missing
Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean are
weighing when to deploy an underwater robot to aid in the hunt,
now in its sixth fruitless week.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared soon after taking
off on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 227
passengers and 12 crew on board, triggering a multinational
search that is now focused on the Indian Ocean.
Searchers are confident they know the approximate position of
wreckage of the Boeing 777, some 1,670 km (1,040 miles)
northwest of Perth, after picking up several acoustic signals
they believe are from its black box recorders.
With the batteries on the locators now two weeks past their
30-day expected life, the focus may soon shift to trying to
find wreckage using sonar and cameras on a small unmanned
"robot" known as an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.
Two ships, one towing a sophisticated "towed pinger locator",
are still criss-crossing the zone where four signals or pings
were picked up, but the last was almost a week ago.
"This work continues in an effort to narrow the underwater
search area for when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is
deployed," the Australian agency heading the search said in a
statement on Sunday.
The mystery has sparked what is on track to be the most
difficult and expensive search and recovery operation in
"Trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometres beneath the surface
of the ocean about 1,000 kilometres from land is a massive,
massive task and it is likely to continue for a long time to
come," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at the
An aircraft's black box records data from the cockpit and
conversations among flight crew and may provide answers about
what happened to the missing plane, which flew thousands of
kilometres (miles) off course after taking off.
Investigators probing the disappearance suspect that the
co-pilot tried to make a call with his cellphone after the
plane was diverted from its scheduled route, Malaysia's New
Straits Times reported sources as saying on Saturday.
Government officials could not immediately be reached for
comment on the report. The New Straits Times quoted acting
Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein as saying that the
report needed to be verified.
But he appeared to cast doubt on the report by saying: "If
this did happen, we would have known about it earlier".
Malaysia is focusing its criminal investigation on the cabin
crew and the pilots of the plane -- 53-year-old captain
Zaharie Ahmad Shah and 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid -- after
clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, police have
Malaysia's government has also begun investigating civil
aviation and military authorities to determine why
opportunities to identify and track the flight were missed in
the chaotic hours after it vanished.