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Malaysia jet search area too deep for submarine

Malaysia Plane Search: Submersible Searches Seafloor For Jet Wreckage

Associated Press

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- The search area for the missing Malaysian jet has proved too deep for a robotic submarine which was hauled back to the surface of the Indian Ocean less than half way through its first seabed hunt for wreckage and the all-important black boxes, authorities said on Tuesday.

Search crews sent the Bluefin 21 deep into the Indian Ocean on Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 after failing for six days to detect any signals believed to be from its black boxes.

But after only six hours of its planned 16-hour mission on the sea bed, the autonomous underwater vehicle exceeded its maximum depth limit of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface, the search coordination center said in a statement on Tuesday.

What if anything it might have discovered during the six-hour search was still being analyzed, the center said.

The Bluefin 21 will resume the search Tuesday when weather conditions permit, it said.

Search authorities knew that the primary wreckage from Flight MH370 was likely lying at the limit of the Bluefin's dive capabilities. Deeper diving submersibles have been evaluated, but none is yet available in the search area.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick about 5,500 meters (3.4 miles) from the area where the last underwater sounds were detected, said Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

Crews have collected an oil sample and are sending it back to Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days. Houston said it does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

The Bluefin 21 can create a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor.

The search moved below the surface after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with signals from an aircraft's black boxes, which record flight data and cockpit conversations. The devices emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but their batteries only last about a month and are now believed dead.

"Today is day 38 of the search," Houston told a news conference on Monday. "We haven't had a single detection in six days, so I guess it's time to go under water."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were "very confident" the four strong underwater signals that were detected were from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese.

But Houston warned that while the signals are a promising lead, the public needs to be realistic about the challenges facing search crews in the extremely remote, deep patch of ocean - an area he called "new to man."

"I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not," Houston said. "However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasize that this will be a slow and painstaking process."

Houston, a retired Australian chief air marshal, called the search "one of the largest search and rescue, search and recovery operations that I've seen in my lifetime."

The Ocean Shield had been dragging a U.S. Navy device called a towed pinger locator through the water to listen for any sounds from the black boxes' beacons.

The Bluefin sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and the two devices can't be used at the same time. Crews had been hoping to detect additional signals before sending down the sub, so they could triangulate the source and zero in on where the black boxes may be.

The submarine takes 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the seafloor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download the data, Houston said.

The black boxes could contain the key to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and an analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don't know why.

But Houston said the visual search operation will end in the next two to three days. Officials haven't found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and he said the chances that any would be found have "greatly diminished."

"We've got no visual objects," he said. "The only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity, so we will investigate those to their conclusion."

Up to 11 planes and as many ships were to join Tuesday's search over 62,000 square kilometers (24,000 square miles), 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.


Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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vulturesmotto April 14 2014 at 10:58 PM

Uh, they had to know this is in deep water - too deep for this device. Many mistakes have been made and I feel for the families of the flight passengers and crew. The craft needs to be found for two reasons 1.) to find out what happened 2.) Foremost - to provide closure for the families. I couldn't care less what nationality they are (as it seems some people that post here think it makes a difference), the families need closure. So far, I have only heard speculations, suppositions, and/or guesses by the investigators.

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janyaz April 15 2014 at 7:06 AM

UNREAL! It's just one calamity after another!!!!

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dal April 15 2014 at 7:06 AM

I couldn't tell you what the truth is but they are all gone, history has consumed another few hundred faces into obscurity. Perhaps some day there will be an answer but something tells me who or what ever made this ill fated flight fall off the face of the earth went down with it and those answers.

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1 reply
Kathy The Great dal April 15 2014 at 7:12 AM

Excellent comment, dal.

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MeMe April 14 2014 at 10:31 PM

if I had a loved one who had been on that plane I would want them to continue the search but I truly believe it will never be found !!

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xbyfan April 15 2014 at 7:09 AM

Didn't we have a professor in a school in Florida who publicy said that Sandy Hook elementary schooting shooting never took place but it was a well orchestrated drama played by the government ? These nuts all over - ubiquitous !!

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2 replies
Kathy The Great xbyfan April 15 2014 at 7:21 AM

There are many nuts that have been online stating that Sandy Hook was an illusion, like WWII and the Jews.

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tdiplaci xbyfan April 15 2014 at 7:22 AM

There is a conspiracy theorist for every event that happens. I feel sorry for the pathetic lives those people must lead.

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BRUCE April 15 2014 at 7:17 AM

The one(s) that did this knew exactly what they were doing, and where to go that would cause all of this grief and expense that it would take to bring the families some kind of knowledge of their loved ones. This is terrorism at it's worst. With most attacks you know what happened and can put your loved ones to rest, but with this kind of attack (if it as an attack) we may never have an answer within our lifetime. So sad for those that will the rest of their life be in mourning without ever knowing for sure what happened.

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1 reply
xbyfan BRUCE April 15 2014 at 7:20 AM

it was the same theory you that you advocate made us bomb Iraq looking for WMD !!

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1 reply
BRUCE xbyfan April 15 2014 at 7:27 AM

That doesn't even beging to make sense....just you imagining what you want and putting words in someone else's mouth.

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bluebouy4 April 15 2014 at 6:34 AM

I can't figure out why these people searching for the jet haven't used the the one instrument that

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1 reply
Richard bluebouy4 April 15 2014 at 6:57 AM

Assuming you successfully put an underwater metal detector on a five mile extension cord, and it detects metal, what have you found? This search is not about finding something but finding the missing aircraft.

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spy2get April 14 2014 at 11:23 PM

I think they know NOTHING YET!

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spillimacs April 15 2014 at 7:31 AM

it'll be a longtime before anything is recovered from this plane ( if its actually down there ) - i think this should spark more interest in retrevable safety measures , like floatation devices , permanent GPS systems , that can't be controlled by the pilot etc etc etc - we can build a bomb that can level the largest city in the world , but can't seem to make a device that tells us where all of our transportation equipment is located at all times - this would help in finding cars that disapear ( people have run off the roads in america and haven't been found for days , many times being located only within a mile or two of home ) , planes , ships etc that are lost at sea - you know , simple things that make life easier

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JTalltrees1 April 15 2014 at 7:06 AM

Well planned job here!

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