The exhaustive search for the missing Malaysian Flight MH–370 has finally gone underwater.
Though the authorities are increasingly worried that the flight data recorder or “black box” may have already gone silent due to dead batteries, the search operation has now fortunately gone underwater with the deployment of Bluefin-21. The advanced, unmanned submarine will now become the absolute front–end of the search operation of the Malaysian Flight MH–370, which went missing more than a month ago.
Until now, investigators were relying on towed pinger locators to ‘hear’ the now-faint pings of MH–370’s black box. These are, essentially, powerful underwater microphones which listen to underwater sounds and are sensitive enough to differentiate the pings of the black box from other sounds.
Despite the fact that these underwater listening devices raised hopes of locating the missing jet’s black box and in extension, the Boeing 777 itself, detailed investigations proved they were misleading and inconclusive.
Angus Houston, who is in charge of joint search efforts, told reporters in Perth, “We haven’t had a single detection in six days so I guess it’s time to go underwater. I emphasize this will be a slow and painstaking process” via Time.
Over the past few days, the pinger locators detected about four pings which could have been man-made or artificial in nature. But, the chance of locating the black box using hydrophones isn’t possible anymore because of the limited life of batteries within the black box. Black box batteries only have a standard life span of 30 days, and Monday marked day 38 since the plane had disappeared, reported CBS6 WTVR. Hence, the only way to locate the plane, apart from aerial sweeps of suspected areas, is to search for a large mass of metal buried underneath the treacherous Indian Ocean waters.
From Monday evening, the Bluefin-21 unmanned underwater submarine will snake back and forth on the ocean floor using high frequency side-scan sonar to search for signs of plane’s wreckage. Unlike other operations, the submarine, being unmanned, will operate on a continuous 24-hour cycle. It will take about 2 hours to reach the ocean floor, 16 hours to comb 15 sq. miles (40 sq. km) and 2 more hours to return to the surface. The submarine will have to resurface after its 16 hour mission to allow technicians to retrieve and analyze collected data, before emptying the drives and sending the submarine back down.
Late Sunday evening, Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield, which is managing Bluefin-21, found an oil slick about 3.5 miles from the last location that a pinger locator ‘heard’. While the sample is being analyzed to confirm it is the fuel from the missing jet, the black box is perhaps no longer the top priority.
[Images Via Bing]