MH370: Unmanned submarine to hunt ocean floor for missing airliner
AN unmanned submarine has been deployed to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane after authorities concluded that a black box beacon was no longer emitting signals.
The submarine will survey the ocean floor to try to provide the first sighting of the Boeing 777 since it disappeared on March 8 but could take weeks or months to complete its search.
No further pings have been heard from the black box beacon since last Tuesday, leading authorities to assess that the batteries, which last about 30 days, have probably run out of life.
Authorities have also spotted an oil slick in the area where the pings were heard and have taken a sample of about two litres for testing.
Angus Houston, the search co-ordinator, said the Bluefin-21 submarine would initially search an area of about 15 square miles but the total area that may need to be investigated spans 500 square miles.
The submarine takes about two hours to reach its depth of about 14,800 feet and will spend 16 hours underwater before rising.
But it can only report when it surfaces, so will effectively provide a daily snapshot of the ocean floor.
Scanning the area could take from six weeks to two months.
"We haven't had a single detection in six days," said Mr Houston.
"So I guess it's time to go underwater."
The deployment of the submarine follows the detection of four sets of signals believed to be from the black box beacon.
Two sets of signals were heard on March 5 and two further sets on March 7.
All were detected by a beacon locator being towed by Australia's Ocean Shield vessel.
Mr Houston, a former Australian defence chief, said it would take "a number of days" to take the oil sample ashore and test it.
"At the moment this is really all we've got," he said.
"We've got no visual objects; the only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity.
"We will investigate those to their conclusion . . ."
He continued: "The oil slick is approximately 5,500 metres down-wind and down-sea from the vicinity of the detections picked up by the towed pinger locator on Ocean Shield."
Despite an ongoing air and sea search, authorities do not believe any floating wreckage from the plane will be found.
Eleven military aircraft, one civilian jet and 15 ships were searching an area spanning about 18,000 square miles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)