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Robot sub returns to water after 1st try cut short

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- A robotic submarine looking for the lost Malaysian jet began its second mission Tuesday after cutting short its first because the ocean waters where it was sent were too deep, officials said.

Monday's planned 16-hour search lasted just six and none of the data collected by the U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21 submarine offered clues to the whereabouts of the plane.

The unmanned sub is programmed to hover 30 meters (100 feet) above the seabed, but it started searching atop a patch that was deeper than the sub's maximum operating 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 shifted the search zone away from the deepest water before sending the Bluefin back for Tuesday's mission, the U.S. Navy said.

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 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 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.

"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 a U.S. Navy device towed by an Australian ship detected underwater sounds 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 are now believed to have failed.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were "very confident" the 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 the signals were a promising lead, but that finding aircraft wreckage in the remote, deep patch of ocean remains extremely difficult.

The black boxes are key to finding the wreckage itself but also could reveal what happened on Flight 370. Investigators believe it crashed 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."

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

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Flight 370: How the BlueFin-21 Sonar Sub Works

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apollospeaks88 April 15 2014 at 11:40 AM

MYSTERY SOLVED

The X-Files Division of the CIA moved the Bermuda Triangle to the Indian Ocean and disappeared the plane.

Kidding aside, for a highly unusual look at this mystery google www.apollospeaks.com

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Phil April 15 2014 at 3:13 PM

And the plot sickens

Flag Reply +1 rate up
davandsher April 15 2014 at 7:07 PM

In the Indian Ocean as deep as it is ,in the place where they're looking, I think it will take some extreme luck to ever find the Plane. I hope they do find it though so the families can finally have closure.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
midnightstalker2000 April 15 2014 at 9:50 PM

All the articles I have read or videos I have watched they have never said anything about if there's islands between where the plane took off and it's destination. Any one familiar with the area? Is there islands any where's between those locations and it's really strange that as long as the plane has been missing, no debris has been found, No bodies, No luggage, No clothes, nothing. This is going nowhere.

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4 replies
Velocity105 April 15 2014 at 7:03 PM

Sixteen hours while 6,000 lbs. is pressing on every square inch of you. That's like being bitten by a shark continuously over every part of your body. Yikes.

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donzidesign April 15 2014 at 3:27 PM

its hard to believe that in this electronic age we count on a black box that sinks instead of all flight info not sent to a i cloud for immediate info and cleared out after flights land safely

Flag Reply +3 rate up
4 replies
chrissf4529 April 15 2014 at 1:19 PM

Comments display we are a society looking for instant results. A quick ending. But, as this story shows, it is a big world and despite our belief that we have the technology to solve all problems, our society is one major catastrophe away from becoming cavemen. If you look at peoples behavior after major events, (Katrina for example).We revert to a more primeval state in major catastrophe.

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b19821 April 15 2014 at 10:01 PM

DEBRIS ISSUE: There was a Cyclone that went thru the "apx" area where the plane came down, about the time, or shortly after it would have crashed. The Cyclone was packing 190 mph winds, yes...190 mph winds. Look it up. That pretty much explains the debris issue to me. There are a few experts that have made note of the Cyclone. Check it out. 190 mph winds would move and destroy the debris field.

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tim123014 April 15 2014 at 2:01 PM

Reading the comments below is much better than reading the Comics' section of the Sunday newspaper.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
mmuhawi April 16 2014 at 4:09 AM

They will find it eventually, but at that point finding boxes could be harder than finding plane itself... I suspect we will know a lot more eventually but it could be long time.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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