Saturday 31 January 2015

Search for plane reaches 'critical point'

Matt Siegel and Byron Kaye

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

AT SEA - APRIL 14:  In this handout image provided by Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence, Phoenix International's Chris Minor and Curt Newport button up the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Bluefin-21 before it is launched off Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 on April 14, 2014. Twenty-six nations have been involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since it disappeared more than a month ago. (Photo by LEUT Kelli Lunt/Australia Department of Defence via Getty Images)
A US Navy deep-sea vehicle (AUV) is scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of the aircraft

THE underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which is focused on a tight 10km circle of the sea floor, could be completed within a week, Australian search officials said.

Malaysia said the search was at a "very critical juncture" and asked for prayers for its success.

A US Navy deep-sea vehicle (AUV) is scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of the aircraft, which disappeared from radars on March 8 with 239 people on board.

After almost two months without a sign of wreckage, the underwater search has been narrowed to a small area around the location in which one of four acoustic signals believed to be from the aircraft's black box recorders was detected on April 8, officials said.

"Provided the weather is favourable for launch and recovery of the AUV and we have a good run with the serviceability of the AUV, we should complete the search of the focused underwater area in five to seven days," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in an email.

Officials did not indicate whether they were confident that this search area would yield any new information about the flight, nor did they state what steps they would take in the event that the underwater search were to prove fruitless.

More than two dozen countries have been involved in the hunt for the Boeing 777 which disappeared from radar shortly into a Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight in what officials believe was a deliberate act.

Weeks of daily sorties have failed to turn up any trace of the plane even after narrowing the search to an arc in the southern Indian Ocean, making this the most expensive such operation in aviation history.

"It is important to focus on today and tomorrow. Narrowing of the search area today and tomorrow is at a very critical juncture," Malaysian acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur.

After almost two weeks without picking up any acoustic signals, and long past the black box battery's 30-day life expectancy, authorities are increasingly reliant on the $4m US Bluefin-21 drone.

Because visual searches of the ocean surface have yielded no concrete evidence, the drone, with its ability to search deep beneath the ocean surface with "side scan" sonar, has become the focal point of the search 2,000km northwest of the Australian city of Perth.


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