UPDATED REGULARLY: Underwater search for missing Malaysian plane continues

Canberra, April 15 (IANS) A mini-sub hunting for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was prepared to make a second mission to the remote Indian Ocean seabed Tuesday, officials said.

The Bluefin-21 is expected to continue search Tuesday, “when weather conditions permit,” Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

The Bluefin-21 was supposed to cover an area of 40 sq.km on its first day Monday underwater, using side sonar to create a 3D image of its surroundings.

The mini-sub deployed Monday from Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield ended its first underwater search mission prematurely after six hours as it had reached its maximum operational depth of 4,500 metres, WA Today reported.

“After completing around six hours of its mission, Bluefin-21 exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 metres and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface,” stated.

“The six hours of data gathered by the autonomous underwater vehicle is currently being extracted and analysed,” JACC said.

Nine military aircraft, two civilian planes and 14 ship are Tuesday scheduled to search an overall area of about 62,063 sq.km.

The Bluefin-21 takes two hours to reach the sea floor after which it can search for 16 hours at a stretch before using another two hours to return to the surface.

A team of 10 US contractors aboard the ADV Ocean Shield would analyse the monochromatic picture captured by the Bluefin-21, looking for anything that appeared “abnormal”.

The US-made Bluefin-21, a 4.93 metre (16.2 feet) long, 750-kg sonar device will now scour the seabed on a 24-hour cycle covering a search area of 40 sq.km each time it dived deep into the ocean, the report said.

The ADV Ocean Shield still continues at the northern end of the defined search area and Chinese ship Haixun 01 and British ship HMS Echo at the southern end.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority narrowed down the overall search area Saturday to 41,393 sq km located about 2,331 km northwest of Perth from Friday’s search area of 46,713 sq. km, the report said.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off for Beijing 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.