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Deep water thwarts robot sub's 1st search for jet

Apr. 15, 2014 7:34 AM EDT

PERTH, Australia (AP) - A robotic submarine hunting for the missing Malaysian jet aborted its first mission after only six hours, surfacing with no new clues when it exceeded its maximum depth along the floor of the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

Search crews sent the U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21 into the depths Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 after failing for six days to detect any new signals believed to be coming from its black boxes.

But the 16-hour mission was cut short when the unmanned sub, which is programmed to hover 30 meters (100 feet) above the seabed, entered a patch that was deeper than its maximum depth of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), the search coordination center and the U.S. Navy said.

A built-in safety feature returned the Bluefin to the surface and it was not damaged, they said.

The data collected by the sub was later analyzed and no sign of the missing plane was found, the U.S. Navy said. Crews were shifting the Bluefin's search area away from the deepest water and were hoping to send it back on another mission later Tuesday.

Search authorities had known the primary search area for Flight 370 was near the limit of the Bluefin's dive capabilities. Deeper-diving submersibles have been evaluated, but none is yet available to help.

A safety margin would have been included in the Bluefin's program to protect the device from harm if it went a bit deeper than its 4,500-meter limit, said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney.

"Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting," he said. "They may not have very reliable prior data for the 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.

Crews collected an oil sample and sent it back to Perth in western Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days, said Angus Houston, the head of the joint agency coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

He 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 can create a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor. But the search is more challenging in this area because the seabed is covered in silt that could potentially cover part of the plane.

Unmanned Submarine To Search For Flight 370

"What they're going to have to be looking for is contrast between hard objects, like bits of a fuselage, and that silty bottom," Williams said. "With the types of sonars they are using, if stuff is sitting up on top of the silt, say a wing was there, you could likely see that ... but small items might sink down into the silt and be covered and then it's going to be a lot more challenging."

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 last only about a month and no sounds have been heard for seven days.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were "very confident" the underwater signals 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.

Houston said Monday that the signals were a promising lead, but that finding aircraft wreckage in the remote, deep patch of ocean remains extremely difficult.

The submarine is programmed to take 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 upload the data.

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.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's defense minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, pledged to reveal the full contents of the black boxes if they are found.

"It's about finding out the truth," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "There is no question of it not being released."

Up to 11 planes and as many ships were scouring a 62,000-square kilometer (24,000-square mile) patch of ocean about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth on Tuesday, hunting for any floating debris.

The weekslong surface search is expected to end in the next two days. Officials haven't found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be found have "greatly diminished."


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


Follow Margie Mason on Twitter at twitter.com/MargieMasonAP

Join the discussion

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dwtomczyk April 15 2014 at 9:16 AM

if it's mechanical it will break

Flag Reply +2 rate up
gsscpprez April 15 2014 at 8:58 AM

The negativity that spews from the AOL news responses below lead me to believe in the acronym of AOL standing for the Ass****s Of Life. If you have nothing to say that is positive, why bother

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1 reply
ffeonxe gsscpprez April 15 2014 at 9:37 AM

But, let's not forget that in MANY cases, pointing out the negatives is the only route to "drive home" a positive. :-)

Flag Reply 0 rate up
patiodaddy April 15 2014 at 9:20 AM

Hmmph, imagine that! Stinks, Stank, STUNK!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bill April 15 2014 at 9:20 AM

I believe that I will wake up and this will all be over.
That's as plausable as most of the theories espoused for the past several weeks.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
savannahswithgod Bill April 15 2014 at 9:56 AM

Wonder if anybody has tried to Astral Project to where they are? Maybe I saw them in a lucid dream but it was coded so have not figured out that's what it was. Did that Astral Projecting once, automatic not on demand, just for a second. Dealing with a porn star who killed herself, Savannah ( Shannon Michelle Wilsey). I write songs of her, lucid dreams and then later came the Lord, Lord Stratos in 2005. All are reincarnated and the Lord knows where the passengers and crew of that flight are.

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wittlief April 15 2014 at 10:34 AM

It will be interesting to see what else these side scan surveys of the ocean floor discover

this part of the ocean has never been surveyed.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
n6fb April 15 2014 at 9:18 AM

The odds of locating the wreckage are less than 1%, given the size of the area to be mapped, and the characteristics of the sub. After location- f it ever happens- the real tough and expensive work starts; sorting through wreckage spread over many s

Flag Reply +3 rate up
phpoling April 15 2014 at 11:04 AM

Maybe it's time to let the plane with 239 people on it leave to be? Just set up a Memorial site in Perth, Australia that point toward where the plane was laid? Just suggestions

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bill April 15 2014 at 9:17 AM

There was a guy on one of the radio talk shows a few days ago, who related this story. He had his BMW stolen in Syria and the thieves contacted him offering to give him his car back if he would pay them $5000. He contacted the local authorities, who in turn contacted BMW in Germany. The car had a factory-installed tracking device and it turns out that the thieves removed the battery from the car - thinking that the tracking device would be inoperable once the battery was removed. Turn out that the tracking device has its own battery and BMW was able, from Germany, to pinpoint exactly where the stolen car was located in a very desolate area of Syria.
The guy went on to explain that this was just a middle of the line BMW, not an expensive model. Why can a $40,000 BMW be located exactly but we cannot locate a huge aircraft?????

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1 reply
bambi4318.barbara Bill April 15 2014 at 10:59 AM

Because the BMW wasn't 2-3 miles underwater.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
user905596 April 15 2014 at 10:44 AM

The Malaysian government should call James Cameron for a consult.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
strangeland64 April 15 2014 at 9:16 AM

It's pretty wierd how every country is worried and spending tons of money to try to help and find the plane, but yet why is it that Malaysia doesn't seam to care, they are keeping awefully quiet like they don't want us or other countries to know something!

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1 reply
Gracie GirL strangeland64 April 15 2014 at 9:41 AM

I think all of the Countries involved are curious about the black boxs because if it is terrorists that took this plane down. All Countries involved need to know for their own safety of Flights! Malaysia I don't think has the assets to search for this plane. My god they dropped the ball when the plane disappeared off of radar. They did nothing!!!

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