In this handout image provided by Australia's Department of Defence, Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Bluefin-21 is in the water after being craned over the side of Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield to begin using its side scan sonar in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 14, 2014.
An unmanned submarine trolling for the missing Malaysian (MAS) jet completed its first full mission after technical issues cut short two earlier sorties.
The Bluefin-21 has now searched 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of ocean floor and data downloaded from its latest trip is being analyzed, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in an e-mailed statement today. As many as 12 aircraft and 11 ships will continue to comb the Indian Ocean today for signs of debris.
At 41 days, the international hunt for Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board, is now the longest search for a missing passenger jet in modern aviation history. The Bluefin-21, which uses side-scan sonar to capture images of the ocean bottom, is pivotal to the search with the batteries in the aircraft’s black boxes now likely dead.
The submarine is being prepared for its next mission, JACC said. The Bluefin-21, equipped with sonar that bounces sound waves off the bottom to create images of terrain, is supposed to be deployed for 24 hours at a time.
Its first foray was cut short after a built-in safety feature forced it to return to the surface after it dived deeper than its operating limit of 4,500 meters. The second dive was interrupted by a minor battery malfunction, according to Jim Gibson, general manager of Phoenix International Holdings Inc., the company performing the search under contract to the U.S. Navy.
Data analyzed so far hasn’t revealed any significant objects.
No audio pulses have been detected since April 8, suggesting the aircraft’s black boxes have run out of battery power. The crash-proof recorders are crucial to determining why the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. jet vanished en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, reversing course and flying into some of the world’s most remote ocean waters.
The underwater search by Bluefin-21 could take as much as two months, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in an e-mailed statement April 14.