MH370 Search Shifts To Underwater Sub: Oil Slick Found But Black Box Ping Presumed Silenced

Chief Coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (ret’d) briefing the media. (Photo: Getty)

Australia will deploy the US unmanned submersible, Bluefin-21, which has the ability to create 3D maps of the ocean floor, as it continues to search for the missing flight MH370.

At a press conference this afternoon retired defence force chief Angus Houston, chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, said that 38 days on and six days since any signal was last detected, the “autonomous underwater vehicle” Bluefin-21 would be deployed this afternoon to search a 40-square-kilometre area based around the four “pings” detected last week.

“We need to pursue this lead as far as possible,” the former defence chief said. But with the search area much larger than the 40km-sq-a-day area the robot can scan, “It may be a slow and painstaking process,” he said, adding “The chances of any floating material being recovered has been greatly diminished.”

Houston said the search vessel Ocean Shield had also found an oil slick 5,500m downwind and downsea from the location of the audio signals and samples are being sent back to the mainland for analysis. The search area is 2,200 km northwest of Perth.

The Ocean Shield was using a ping locator in attempts to find the black box. But with the signal lasting to a maximum of 40 days, and nothing being detected for nearly a week, the change in tactic is also based on the fact the ship can only deploy one device at a time.

Bluefin-21 has the capability to descend to 4500m and produces high-resolution maps of the sea floor. It will take two hours to descend, spend 16 hours searching an area 8km by 5km, and after a two-hour resurface. It will take another four hours for the data to be downloaded and analysed. The 24-hour turn-around will then be repeated.

“It has the potential to take us a further step towards visual identification,” Houston said.

“It’s a manageable search area on the ocean floor,” he said, adding that the search area would be expanded if the data did not reveal wreckage on the ocean floor.

“Don’t be overly optimistic, be realistic,” he warned.

“This is one of the largest search, rescue and recovery operations I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Houston said, in response to a question about the cost of the search and rescue effort.

“The world community should be very appreciative of the countries bearing that cost.”

Now read: All about Bluefin 21 and how it works

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