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Two ships hunt for black boxes from missing jetliner

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Two ships with sophisticated equipment for searching underwater zeroed in Friday on a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean in a desperate hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet's black boxes, whose batteries will soon run out.

An arduous weeks-long hunt has not turned up a single piece of wreckage, which could have led the searchers to the plane and eventually to its black boxes containing key information about the flight. But the searchers have apparently decided to make a direct attempt to find the devices, whose batteries last about a month.

Two ships with equipment that can hear the black boxes' pings were slowly making their way along a 240-kilometer (150-mile) route that investigators are hoping may be close to the spot Flight 370 entered the water after it vanished March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

But the head of the joint agency coordinating the search acknowledged that the search area was essentially just a best guess - and noted that time was running out for search crews to find the coveted data recorders.

"The locater 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, which is dragging a towed pinger locator from the U.S. Navy, and the British navy's HMS Echo, which has underwater search gear on board, were looking for the black boxes 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.

"The area of highest probability as to where the aircraft might have entered the water is the area where the underwater search will commence," he said. "It's on the basis of data that only arrived very recently and it's the best data that is available."

Because the U.S. Navy's pinger locator can pick up black box signals up to a depth of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet), it should be able to hear the devices even if they are lying in the deepest part of the search zone - about 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) below the surface. 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 the pinger locator must be dragged slowly through the water at just 1 to 5 knots, or 1 to 6 miles per hour.

Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on ocean currents to try and backtrack to the spot where the Boeing 777 hit the water - and where the black boxes may be. The devices would provide crucial information about what condition the plane was flying under and any communications or sounds in the cockpit.

But with no wreckage found despite weeks of searching, officials can't be confident that they're looking for the black boxes 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 on the balance of probabilities, 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 were crisscrossing Friday in the hopes of spotting debris on the ocean surface. The search zone is about 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) - or a 2 1/2-hour flight - northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth. Several ships also had helicopters on board.

The search area has shifted each day, as the investigative team continues to analyze what little radar and satellite data is available while factoring in where any debris may have drifted due to ocean currents and weather.

"I think we've probably got to the end of the process of analysis," Houston said. "And my expectation is that we're into a situation where the data we've got is the data we've got and we'll proceed on the basis of that."

Houston said it was unlikely that any additional pinger locators would join the search any time soon because they are in scarce supply.

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

Four Australian investigators were in Kuala Lumpur to help with the investigation and ensure that information on the aircraft's likely flight path is fed back to search crews, he said. The two countries are still working out who will be in charge of the analysis of any wreckage and flight recorders that may be found.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with staff Friday at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is running the search efforts, and acknowledged that officials have no idea how long the hunt would continue.

"It is probably the most difficult search that's ever been mounted," Abbott told staffers. "A large aircraft seems like something that would be easy enough to locate - but a large aircraft that all but disappeared, and disappeared into inaccessible oceans, is an extraordinary, extraordinary challenge that you're faced with."


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gap8350 April 04 2014 at 7:52 PM

Did anybody think about the airplane going down in the middle of the mountains which are very high in those places?, did they analize the listing on the printer on the day and after the disapearing of the airplane? I think the airplane went down in the middle of those mountains, whenever they are. I hope what they are doing now to find something to calm the pain of the victim's family. It is indeed a very sad moment for everybody .

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1 reply
gnobie01 gap8350 April 04 2014 at 11:17 PM


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dohcman April 04 2014 at 8:48 AM

I posted last Friday a suggetsion that at least one other individual here has also thought of...Good for you "Roll and Fab". A Nuclear sub is definately the way to go here. There are many of them already in the waters all over the world (Chinese, Russian, American, British and so forth.....). They can definately be used to search for the "Black Boxes" and their range is significantly further than the range of the current locators being used by the Navy. This could be done immediately provided all governments would pull together on this one...imagine that...all governments working together toward a common cause....how nice would that be for humanity. I would also suggest going back to Submarine record tapes from the time of the "Assumed Crash" to present day. All subs have such tapes and they can be adjusted to remove other interferences such as other subs and biologics i.e. the sounds of marine biology including but not excluding Whales, Dolphins and so forth. These subs can pick up sounds for miles and miles underwater. At the end of the day however, I still feel that the plane landed and is hidden. Lets keep praying for the passengers and not give up until we know something for sure.

Peace to all the families.................

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up.yours April 04 2014 at 9:26 AM

Not Energizer?

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rickuselton April 04 2014 at 11:36 AM

No one ever thought that a plane would crash into the World Trade Center, on purpose. Much less a SECOND plane. Now I am not a believer in the conspiracy theories of this flight, but I can understand why people may think that it landed somewhere and could be used as a massive bomb. It is sad that things have happened that make us think this could be a possibility. And nothing should be ruled out. People just think that because they have been looking for almost a month, they should have found it. But what people do not get is that this area they are searching is HUGE! I do believe with the "misinformation" the Malaysian government has given, there might be things they are not saying yet, if ever. But, personally I do NOT believe this plane is being packed with nukes, bombs or whatever to crash into something. At least I HOPE that isn't going to happen. Of course if it was hijacked by terrorist they would have claimed that they did it, unless they had something else in mind. This 777 is in the Indian Ocean and it could be years before it is found...I just hope they find something to give their loved ones a chance to find some closure.

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1 reply
animalloveinc rickuselton April 04 2014 at 3:13 PM

Well said.

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hway395 April 04 2014 at 12:39 PM

Anyone on here an expert on the Doppler data vs Inmarsat's data? I read somewhere suggesting an error. Inmarsat shows "positive" Doppler, flying away from the satellite. The military radar track showed a westward course meaning the plane was flying towards the satellite, resulting in "negative" Doppler. Is this inaccurate information or are searchers in the wrong location?

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abcstarfox April 05 2014 at 1:03 AM

I was of the opinion that the plane was hyjacked for profit.
Now... I just don't know anymore.

I can only hope for a happy outcome and wish the families my
very best.

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chmdeeringconst April 04 2014 at 11:33 AM

I guess my question would be is why planes don't have gps or tracking systems on them? Like the
iphone but ones that still send signals even if on bottom of ocean and last forever, well if they had them they would find the missing plane i am assuming so they wouldn't have to last forever. If there is nothing out there like that then the inventors of the world need to get working on it... it is so very sad for the families

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1 reply
pobo52 chmdeeringconst April 04 2014 at 11:48 AM

In this day and age I don't know why a "black box" is even required. Flight and cockpit data should be uploaded to a satellite and stored by the airlines via a downlink on a secure computer.

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2 replies
dashdzl pobo52 April 04 2014 at 12:08 PM

Your idea makes sense, they ought to develop that

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dashdzl pobo52 April 04 2014 at 12:08 PM

You should be an engineer

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gcarlson007 April 04 2014 at 11:31 AM

They haven't even found wreckage from the plane, what makes them think they can find the 'Black Boxes'? Is the plane even in the water?

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sallysunbury April 04 2014 at 11:14 AM

Have the "authorities" on this search ever said that they searched over dry land that the plane could possibly have reached with the amount of fuel it had? I do recall that numerous countries could have been reached, and some of them are not exactly exemplars of freedom of information, like China and Pakistan. Just wondering, because I myself have never heard any mention of that.

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TOMMY BOY April 04 2014 at 9:29 AM

So in other words they ain't got squat

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