An unmanned Bluefin 21 submarine is scouring a 500-square-mile area of the Indian Ocean floor to look for wreckage and other clues leading to Malaysian Flight 370, as searchers announce they believe the black box batteries have died.
The Bluefin 21, which can dive 14,000 feet below the surface, is looking in the area where crews heard sonar “pings” believed to be from the plane’s black box. However, there have been no electronic sounds picked up for several days.
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“I would caution against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of aircraft wreckage,” Angus Houston, who is leading the search efforts, told The Washington Post
. “It may not. However, this is the best lead we have. We’ve got to find wreckage before we can finally say we’ve solved this mystery.”
The Bluefin will dive to the bottom, which takes two hours, and then create a 3D sonar map to look for debris during 16 hours on the sea floor. Add in a two-hour return to the surface and four hours to download data, the process will take 24 hours for each mission.
Houston said that to search the grid will take weeks to months, ABC News reported.
An oil slick was discovered about 3.5 miles from the search area, and Houston told The Washington Post that a sample was taken for analysis, although the slick may be unrelated to the Malaysian crash.
The expensive search could continue for some time. Houston compared it to the Air France flight that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. It was two years later that the black box was recovered in an area one mile closer to the surface than where the Malaysian flight is thought to have gone down.
“I think that gives you some idea of how challenging this should be,” Houston told the Post. “And that’s why I say we’ve got to be realistic about this. It may be very difficult to find something, and you don’t know how good any lead is until you get your eyes on the wreckage.”
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