The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 shifted underwater on Friday, with a high-tech US Navy “black box” locator deployed for the first time as the remaining battery life of the plane's cockpit data recorder dwindled.
MH370's black box is equipped with a locator beacon that transmits “pings” when under water, but which only has an expected battery life of around 30 days.
“On best advice the locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions, so we’re now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire,” retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters in Perth.
Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger Locator will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield, searching a converging course on a 240 kms (150 miles) track with British hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.
But the locator may be of little help unless investigators can get a better idea of where the plane went into water, because its limited range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean.
A month since flight disappeared
Houston said the search for surface debris was also continuing. “This is a vast area, an area that’s quite remote," he said. "We will continue the surface search for a good deal more time."
Monday will mark 30 days since the jetliner lost communications and disappeared from civilian radar on March 8, less than an hour into an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic “handshakes” exchanged with a satellite led investigators to conclude that the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours later.
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the disappearance, but say all the evidence suggests the plane was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route.
Malaysia’s police chief said the investigation was focusing on the cabin crew and pilots, after clearing all 227 passengers of possible involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or psychological problems that could have been connected to the disappearance.
Huge search area
On Friday, up to 14 planes and nine ships were scouring the search area of about 223,000 sq kms (86,000 sq miles) – roughly the size of the US state of Minnesota – some 1,680 kms (1,040 miles) west-north-west of Perth, Houston said.
Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, and a Malaysian frigate was due to arrive in the search area on Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday joined his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott in a tour of RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, where aircrews from seven countries have been flying dozens of missions deep into the southern Indian Ocean.
“The world expects us to do our level best, and I’m very confident we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations; that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found,” Najib said.
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search, now in its fourth fruitless week, and holding back information.
Most of the 239 people on board the flight were Chinese.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-04