PERTH, AUSTRALIA: Search crews were for the first time sending a submarine 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 today.
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, today. The 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.
Crews have been trying to re-locate the sounds since then to determine whether they are from Flight 370, but so 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 today to examine the water in the search area in the hopes of another breakthrough.
The Boeing 777 vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. The focus of the search changed repeatedly. It began in the South China Sea, then shifted toward the Strait of Malacca to the west, and then to several locations in the southern Indian Ocean as an analysis of satellite and radar data indicated the plane veered far off course.
“We are cautiously hopeful that there will be a positive development in the next few days, if not hours,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in Kuala Lumpur.
Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University in Australia, said it would be “coincidental in the extreme” for the sounds to have come from anything other than an aircraft’s flight recorder.