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1 month into search, desperate hunt is on for Flight MH370 'black boxes'

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- Four weeks after the Malaysia Airlines jet vanished, two ships deployed sound locators Friday in the southern Indian Ocean in a desperate attempt to find the plane's flight recorders before their signal beacons fall silent.

Officials leading the multinational search for Flight 370 said there was no specific information that led to the underwater devices being used for the first time, but that they were brought into the effort because there was nothing to lose.

The air and sea search has not turned up any wreckage from the Boeing 777 that could lead searchers to the plane and perhaps its flight data and cockpit voice recorders, or "black boxes."

The recorders could help investigators determine why the Malaysia Airlines plane, which disappeared March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, veered so far off-course.

Beacons in the black boxes emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last about a month.

Two ships with sophisticated equipment that can hear the pings made their way Friday along a 240-kilometer (150-mile) route investigators hope may be close to the spot where officials believe Flight 370 went down.

"No hard evidence has been found to date, so we have made the decision to search a sub-surface area on which the analysis has predicted MH370 is likely to have flown," Cmdr. Peter Leahy, the commander of military forces involved in the search, said in a statement.

Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the joint agency coordinating the operation, acknowledged the search area was essentially a best guess. He noted that time is running out to find the recorders.

"The locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions - so we're now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire," Angus Houston said.

The Australian navy ship Ocean Shield towed a pinger locator from the U.S. Navy, while the British navy's HMS Echo, equipped with similar gear, looked for the recorders in an area that investigators' settled on after analyzing hourly satellite pings the aircraft gave off after it disappeared.

That information, combined with data on the estimated speed and performance of the aircraft, led them to that specific stretch of ocean, Houston said.

Because the U.S. Navy's pinger locator can pick up signals to a depth of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet), it should be able to hear the plane's data recorders even if they are in the deepest part of the search zone - about 5,800 meters (19,000 feet). But that's only if the locator gets within range of the black boxes - a tough task, given the size of the search area and the fact that the pinger locator must be dragged slowly through the water at just 1 to 5 knots, or 1 to 6 mph.

The type of locator being used is a 70-centimeter (30-inch) cylindrical microphone that is towed underwater in a grid pattern behind a ship. It's attached to about 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) of cable and is guided through the ocean depths by a yellow, triangular carrier with a shark fin on top. It looks like a stingray and has a wingspan of 1 meter (3 feet).

Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to try to backtrack to where the plane hit the water, and where the flight recorders may be.

But with no wreckage found so far, officials can't be confident they're looking in the right place, said Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University in Australia.

"They might be lucky and they might start smack bang right over the top of it," Dell said. "But my guess is that's not going to be the case and they're in for a lengthy search."

The area where crews are looking for the devices lies within a larger 217,000-square-kilometer (84,000-square-mile) search zone that 14 planes and nine ships crisscrossed Friday in hopes of finding floating debris. The search zone is about 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) northwest of Perth on Australia's west coast.

Ships sighted a number of objects but none were associated with the missing plane.

The search area has shifted each day as investigators continue to analyze what little radar and satellite data is available while factoring in where any debris may have drifted.

Australia is coordinating the ocean search, and the investigation into the plane's disappearance is ultimately Malaysia's responsibility. Australia, the U.S., Britain and China have all agreed to be "accredited representatives" of the investigation.

Four Australian investigators were in Kuala Lumpur to help with the investigation and ensure information on the aircraft's likely flight path is fed back to search crews, Houston said.


Associated Press writers Eileen Ng and Gillian Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Kristen Gelineau and Rohan Sullivan in Sydney contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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birds2nv April 04 2014 at 11:26 PM

No debris field because the flight landed in a country friendly to terrorism. The passengers are probably not so lucky. Retired Lt Gen. McInerney made a statement a few weeks ago that sources he knew of told him the jet landed in Pakistan. I am sure we have spy satelites trained over that area.

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emsdepot April 04 2014 at 11:52 PM


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R.C. Morton April 04 2014 at 8:09 PM

Oh boy, now all the conspiracy theorist will have a chance to dream up all the possible scenarios to try and make sense of it all. What did I just read, "if some one important was on the airplane they would already know where it is"...yeah right. Take if from a former aircraft accident investigator and the holder of an airline transport pilot certificate with a type rating in DC-9s, that airplane will never be found and we will never know for sure what happened. I would argue that it was an onboard electrical fire but that we will ever know either. Just try to keep in mind that in most accidents it is the simple not the complex that causes them.

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pamei7 April 04 2014 at 11:05 PM

folks that plane isnt any where they think it is...................its still sitting on the run way

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scudnut April 04 2014 at 10:52 PM

Sorry but their chances of finding the airplane are worse than finding a safety pin on the planet mercury,

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GEORGE April 04 2014 at 10:50 PM

What if the pilot did a soft crash landing on water( like Capt. Scully did on the Hudson River).
The plane could have remained intact and then sunk in one piece. The authorities keep talking of looking for debris but maybe there is none.

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sherrieandkats April 05 2014 at 12:54 AM

Google: "A Tiny Chip Was The Most Likely Motive For Pentagon Hijack Of Mh 370." by Hong Kong journalist Yoichi Shimatsu. Most likely his conjecture on what happened.

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cjsimon12 April 05 2014 at 1:05 AM

If they were really serious about finding the plane, they would have enlisted the use of nuclear powered subs. These vessels would NOT have been hindered by weather, or rough seas. They are under the water, and their listening capability would have allowed them to listen for all these pings that everyone keeps talking about. And there would be no issue of range and having to refuel. A nuclear sub does not have to refuel, and stays at sea for many months at a time.

This whole fiasco has been a big diversion to get people to lose their focus on the obvious. A plane of this sophistication does not just have some mishap and disappear without any trace. VERY foul play was involved. The only part that is unknown is who the culprits are. The pilots? Others on the plane? A combination of both? And for what purpose? Terrorism? Something else? Whatever is going on here, it is truly "rotten in Denmark" and a lot of nonsensical speculation about black holes and aliens just muddies up the whole thing. Human beings with very sinister and evil intentions are behind the disappearance of this plane. How high up the conspiracy goes is the unanswered, and the scary part.

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5 replies
nsgreenparty April 04 2014 at 7:04 PM

But... It crashed in the Indian Ocean. I know this because the news said so.

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Vikki April 05 2014 at 1:42 AM

The plane disintegrated. Think about it, no one's taking credit for this, no one is asking for
anything, no food, water, medical supplies. Is it another Bermuda Triangle or something
Like that? How long did we wait until we stopped looking for ship 's and planes or
haven't we given up there yet either ?

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