Sensor-equipped ships dispatched to look for missing Malaysian plane’s flight recorders

Sensor-equipped ships dispatched to look for missing Malaysian plane’s flight recorders

Sensor-equipped ships dispatched to look for missing Malaysian plane’s flight recorders

Written by Staff Writer

05 Apr, 2014 | 7:22 am

A crucial stage in the four-week search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane began Friday as two military ships – one from Australia, the other from Britain – directed their sensor technology beneath the surface and began the underwater phase of the hunt, hoping to pick up signs of wreckage at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The ships will search a single 150-mile-long track of the ocean floor, with the ships starting from opposite ends and converging in the middle, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Australian official overseeing the coordination of the search. Both vessels are equipped with listening devices that could hear pings from the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders, or black boxes.

Houston said the ships – the HMS Echo of the Royal Navy and the Ocean Shield of the Royal Australian Navy – were part of a deployment of nine vessels in Friday’s search, about 1,050 miles off Perth, Australia. The ships will be joined by as many as 10 military planes and four civilian jets.

The Ocean Shield is outfitted with a so-called towed pinger locator, a batwing-shaped device with a microphone that is towed below the vessel.

Much is riding on the effectiveness of the underwater listening devices – and on the estimates of analysts who have designated the search zone as where the plane might have plunged into the ocean.

The black boxes’ batteries, which last about a month, are expected to expire next week. When they die, so too will the pinger signal.

In the meantime, crews on the planes and other vessels will continue searching for floating debris.

“We’ll continue the surface search for a good deal more time because if we find a piece of wreckage on the surface, or some evidence on the surface that the aircraft went into the water nearby, that gives us a much better datum” to conduct the underwater search, Houston said during a news conference in Perth.

“Instead of searching over an area the size of Ireland, we might be able to get into an area which is the size of the metropolitan area of Perth, for example,” he said.

Houston said there was still “a great possibility” that searchers might find debris from the plane on the ocean surface.

On Thursday, the search zone was adjusted northward from where searchers had been exploring for the past week.

The modification, Houston said Friday, was “based on continuing groundbreaking and multidisciplinary technical analysis” of satellite data and airplane performance.

“There is nothing unusual about this,” he added. “The search area will be adjusted on a semiregular basis.”


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