The window is closing to locate the black box of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight which disappeared 16 days ago but to pinpoint its location search crews need to narrow a search area to within tens of kilometres, an aviation expert says.
Now that authorities have concluded flight MH730 ended up in the Southern Indian Ocean, they are focusing on trying to find any debris and track currents to try and determine where the plane may have crashed into the water with its 239 passengers and crew.
But the search area is a vast region some 2,500km southwest of Perth, and the critical flight data recorder – one of two “black boxes” from the plane – has only two weeks of battery life left.
Once it runs out of battery it’s going to be almost impossible to retrieve it, according to Jason Middleton, Head of UNSW Aviation School – but in order to find it search crews are going to have to get very close to the object at first.
The boxes are fitted with acoustic pingers which send out an audio signal that sonar can detect.
“Sonar receivers can hear pings if they’re tens of kilometres away – not hundreds,” he said.
“This is why the US has dispatched ships with specialist equipment.
“There’s only a limited window to find the pinger. Once pingers lose battery, you’re done.”
The black box will contain critical flight data that will help establish what happened to the Malaysian Airlines jet after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.
“You can see whether settings have been turned off, if there was a fire or any malfunctions,” Middleton said.
The cockpit voice recorder might also “may tell something if the pilots are talking”.
He said locating debris from a wreckage was important but if the wreckage was found in the ocean, search crews would still need to review two weeks of current data to estimate a wreckage location.
“Then they have to look and listen to the pinger but they’ve only got two weeks,” he said.
“The trouble is it’s so remote.
“Pingers are very effective when you know where the accident is.”
If the back box is found it could be in very deep ocean so efforts to recover it would probably involve remote operated vehicles, Middleton said.
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