Sonar loaded underwater robot to hunt for MH370

Apr 08, 2014
This handout image taken on April 1, 2014 and received on April 8, 2014 from the US Navy shows the Bluefin 21 Artemis autonomous underwater vehicle being hoisted back on board the Australian navy vessel Ocean Shield

A torpedo-shaped mini-sub could provide conclusive proof that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crashed into the Indian Ocean, but the task is set to push the machine to its limits.

The Bluefin-21, a 493 centimetre (16.2 feet) long is expected to be deployed to the ocean floor in the days ahead to look for debris from Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8.

Angus Houston, who heads the agency coordinating the eight-nation hunt, said that after more work to detect "pings" consistent with those issued from aircraft black boxes the autonomous submersible could be deployed in the remote area off western Australia where the search is focused.

Once in the water, if the device detects something unusual using the sonar, it can be brought to the surface and sent down again equipped with a video camera to provide the visual evidence of a crash.

"You can't have the side sonar and the camera down there together, it's one or the other," the retired Air Chief Marshal Houston told the ABC.

"We will continue sortie after sortie until such time as we pick up evidence that there's something unusual on the ocean floor. We would then send down the camera.

"What we're after is wreckage, a debris field as people would say."

The device was designed for offshore surveying, search and salvage operations, archaeology and exploration, oceanography and mine countermeasures and its modest size makes it easy to transport.

But it will be a smallish device operating in a vast ocean search zone, and Houston said it would take a long time to find anything without more information about a possible crash site.

"It's a long, painstaking process, particularly when you start searching the depths of the ocean floor," he said.

The Bluefin-21 has not yet been sent down because it can not be deployed while the US Navy's towed pinger locator, the device attached to the Australian vessel Ocean Shield which had picked up the sounds, is in use.

But once the batteries in the black box recorders expire, something which is expected to occur in coming days given they have a life-span of about 30 days, the Bluefin-21 is expected to be deployed.

The device, which weighs 750 kilograms, can operate at a depth of up to 4,500 metres—the depth of the where the pings were detected.

"It can't go deeper than that, so it's quite incredible how finely balanced all of this is," Houston said.

The US Navy has provided specialist Navy and civilian equipment operators who will join the ship's crew and Australian Defence Force specialists to deploy the equipment, authorities said.

Explore further: Tracking down MH370 black boxes a Herculean challenge

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Malaysia plane search area turns up objects

Mar 28, 2014

Australian officials moved the search area for the lost Malaysian jetliner 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast Friday following a new analysis of radar data, and planes quickly found multiple objects ...

The technological search for MH370's black box

Mar 31, 2014

As the effort to find Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 moves inexorably towards the recovery stage, the challenge of finding the plane's flight recorder (called the "black box" even though it's actually bright orange) on the ocean fl ...

China demands Malaysia turn over satellite data

Mar 25, 2014

China demanded that Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to conclude that a Malaysia Airlines jetliner had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean killing everyone on board, as gale-force winds and heavy ...

Recommended for you

Improving forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

8 hours ago

Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach riverbanks, wash out roads and flood buildings.

The Greenland Ice Sheet: Now in HD

9 hours ago

The Greenland Ice Sheet is ready for its close-up. The highest-resolution satellite images ever taken of that region are making their debut. And while each individual pixel represents only one moment in time, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Skepticus
not rated yet Apr 08, 2014
"pings" consistent with those issued from aircraft black boxes

- It is too expensive and hard to design transmitters to emit sonic Morse codes to identify the recorder itself unequivocally, so searchers have to guess!
..the device ... can't have the side sonar and the camera down there together, it's one or the other,"..The Bluefin-21 has not yet been sent down because it can not be deployed while the US Navy's towed pinger locator, the device attached to the Australian vessel Ocean Shield which had picked up the sounds, is in use.

- It cost too much to have two of them, and they can't be designed to work together at the same time, or with any other machines. One slow mo at a time. Time wasted is no object. The dead can wait!
The device, can operate at a depth of up to 4,50metres..."It can't go deeper than that

- Safety factor?
But once the batteries in the black box recorders expire..the Bluefin-21 is expected to be deployed

- Make sense!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.