Hunt for missing jet dealt new blow as black box batteries have run out
AUSTRALIAN authorities fear that the batteries on MH370's black box may have run out, with any hope of finding the wreckage of the missing jet now largely pinned to an unmanned submarine.
No signals had been recorded since Sunday night, and the optimism on Monday that a breakthrough was imminent had disappeared yesterday.
Admitting that the next phase of the search could prove "long and painstaking", authorities said they had lost contact with the plane's black box "pinger".
The deployment of a 16ft unmanned submarine was now being considered in the main search area, but it can cover only about 80 miles a day, travelling at around five miles an hour. It cannot transmit data until it surfaces after each 20-hour mission.
The specialist submarine is on board Australia's Ocean Shield – the same ship towing the "pinger" locator – but was intended to search for wreckage only after the locator had homed in on the black box. The maximum depth to which it can go is 14,800ft – the same as that of the area's ocean floor.
"It is quite incredible how finely balanced all of this is," said Angus Houston, a retired air chief marshal, the search coordinator. "It is a large area for a small submersible that has a very narrow field of search, and of course, it is literally crawling along the bottom of the ocean."
The prospect of finding the black box worsened because the Ocean Shield had lost contact with the "promising" pulse signals it detected at the weekend.
The Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared with 239 people on board in the early hours of March 8. The battery of the black box "pinger" was expected to fail after about 30 days.
Authorities were trying to decide which of the two devices – the "pinger" locator or submarine – was the more likely to find the aircraft in the area off north-west Australia where the signals were detected. Mr Houston said the submarine would not be deployed until the signal was heard again or until the pinging was believed to have ended. He said the search for the black box would continue for "several days" before launching the submarine.
"There is a chance the locator beacon is about to cease transmission or has ceased transmission," he said.
"It is all going to take time. During the [submarine's] mission, nothing is transmitted back; it comes back to the ship, the data [is] analysed and then it is turned round and sent back down again. We continue sortie after sortie – 20 hours after 20 hours after 20 hours – until such time as we pick up evidence that there is something unusual from the ocean floor."
Navy divers have also been deployed to try to spot debris beneath the surface. The multinational search – believed to be the largest in aviation history – has already cost an estimated €31m. China's Haixun 01 and Britain's HMS Echo continue to search about 345 miles south of the Ocean Shield after the Chinese vessel detected signals in the area on Friday. (©The Daily Telegraph)