Lost jet: Underwater search for black box begins

the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 Perth, Australia (IANS): The search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 ended Friday without any headway even as the underwater search for jet’s black box began “Today (Friday) there have been some sightings of objects reported by ships in the search area but none were associated with MH370,” Australia’s Joint Agency Cordination Centre (JACC) said in its latest update.

“The Royal Australian Navy, using the Towed Pinger Locator from the United States Navy on Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield, and the Royal Navy, with a similar capability on HMS Echo, today began the underwater search for emissions from the black-box pinger from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” it added.

A total of 14 aircraft and 11 ships were involved in Friday’s search activities.

“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority determined a search area of about 217,000 sq km, 1700 km northwest of Perth,” the JACC said.

“Weather in the search area was good, with visibility greater than 10 kilometres.”

In an earlier update Friday, the JACC said the two ships, Ocean Shield and HMS Echo, will search a single 240-km track, converging on each other.

The Commander of Joint Task Force 658, Commodore Peter Leavy, said the two ships and their towed-pinger equipment would be operating at significantly reduced speed to search at depths of three thousand metres or more, the update.

“There has not been any change in the search,” Commodore Leavy said.

He said that since no hard evidence has been found to date a decision has been taken “to search a sub-surface area on which the analysis has predicted MH370 is likely to have flown”.

“While the preference for search operations is to use physical evidence and then drift modelling to determine a smaller sub-surface search area, the search track is considered to be the best estimate possible for an area likely to contain the crashed aircraft,” he said adding that the equipment on the two ships “can only operate effectively at reduced speed, around three knots”.

“The search using sub-surface equipment needs to be methodical and carefully executed in order to effectively detect the faint signal of the pinger,” he added.

Functionality tests were carried out on the Towed Pinger Locator, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and transducer pole to prove its effectiveness during transit to the search area, according to the JACC.

“All the acoustic sensors, GPS positioning, tracking and frequency systems and positioning of the equipment completed a functionality test,” it said.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight March 8.

The Boeing 777-200ER was scheduled to land in Beijing the same day. The 227 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

(Among the passengers are two Indo-Canadians: Muktesh Mukherjee, 47, and his wife Xiaomao Bai, 37. Mukherjee is vice-president of operations in China for the Pennsylvania-based XCoal Energy and Resources. He is the grandson of the late Indian minister Mohan Kumaramangalam.)
Despite extensive scouring of remote southern Indian Ocean by planes and ships off the coast of Perth, where the plane is believed to have crashed, no trace has been found.

Australia, meanwhile, has accepted Malaysia’s invitation to join the investigation into the disappearance of the jet as a fully accredited member, according to Xinhua.

“Australia has agreed both to lead the search and as an accredited representative to provide support for the Malaysian investigations,” Angus Houston, chief of the JACC, told a press conference in Perth.

Houston had briefed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on the Australia-led retrieval effort during the latter’s tour to Perth Thursday. The US, Britain and China are also accredited members.

Australia and Malaysia are currently drawing up a comprehensive agreement regarding Australia’s role in search and investigation, such as critical decision points, the handling of accident victims, custody of aircraft wreckage and the downloading of intonation from flight recorders that might be recovered, Houston said.

According to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, Malaysia, the country of the flight carrier, is responsible for the investigation.

An Australian team made up of four senior investigators is in Kuala Lumpur for the lost aircraft-related investigation and for ensuring that relevant investigation information is considered while mapping out search strategies, he added.