Search crews were for the first time sending a sub deep into the Indian Ocean to try and determine whether faint sounds detected by equipment on board an Australian ship are from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane’s black boxes, Australia’s acting prime minister said Tuesday.
Warren Truss, Australia’s acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is overseas, said the crew on board the Ocean Shield will launch the underwater vehicle, the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub, on Tuesday. The unmanned miniature sub can create a sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the sea floor. If it maps out a debris field, the crew will replace the sonar system with a camera unit to photograph any wreckage.
Angus Houston, who is heading the search, said Monday that the Ocean Shield, which is towing sophisticated U.S. Navy listening equipment, detected late Saturday and early Sunday two distinct, long-lasting sounds underwater that are consistent with the pings from an aircraft’s “black boxes” _ the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Houston dubbed the find “a most promising lead” in the monthlong hunt for clues to the plane’s fate, but warned it could take days to determine whether the sounds were connected to Flight 370.
Crews have been trying to re-locate the sounds since Sunday, but have thus far had no luck, Truss said.
Today is another critical day as we try and reconnect with the signals that perhaps have been emanating from the black box flight recorder of the MH370,” he said. “The connections two days ago were obviously a time of great hope that there had been a significant breakthrough and it was disappointing that we were unable to repeat that experience yesterday.”
Truss said the crew would use the sub Tuesday to examine the water in the search area in the hopes of another breakthrough.
Finding the black boxes is key to unraveling what happened to Flight 370, because they contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings that could explain why the plane veered so far off-course during its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8.
But time was running out to find the devices, whose locator beacons have a battery life of about a month. Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane vanished.
Everyone’s anxious about the life of the batteries on the black box flight recorders,” Truss said. “Sometimes they go on for many, many weeks longer than they’re mandated to operate for _ we hope that’ll be the case in this instance. But clearly there is an aura of urgency about the investigation.”
The first sound picked up by the equipment on board the Ocean Shield lasted two hours and 20 minutes before it was lost, Houston said. The ship then turned around and picked up a signal again _ this time recording two distinct “pinger returns” that lasted 13 minutes.
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