Sub Search for Plane to Last a Week 04/19 09:33
PERTH, Australia (AP) -- A robotic submarine looking for the missing
Malaysia Airlines jet is expected to finish searching a patch of the Indian
Ocean seabed within a week after so far coming up empty, and the search area
may be expanded after that, officials said Saturday.
As the hunt for Flight 370 hit the six-week mark, the Bluefin 21 unmanned
sub began its seventh trip into the depths off the coast of western Australia.
Its search area forms a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) circle around the location of
an underwater signal that was believed to have come from the aircraft's black
boxes before their batteries died. The sonar scan of the seafloor in that area
is expected to be completed in five to seven days, the search center said in an
email to The Associated Press.
The U.S. Navy sub has covered around 133 square kilometers (51 square miles)
since it began diving into the depths on Monday. The latest data are being
analyzed, but nothing has yet been identified.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala
Lumpur that the weekend search is crucial.
"The narrowing of the search for today and tomorrow is at a very critical
juncture, so I appeal to everybody around the world to pray and pray hard that
we find something to work on over the next couple of days," he said.
But he added that there were no plans to give up once the Bluefin concludes
its work. Instead, he said the scope of the search may be broadened or other
assets may be used.
"The search will always continue," he said. "It is just a matter of
approach. All efforts will be intensified for the next few days with regards to
the underwater search."
Meanwhile on Saturday, up to 11 aircraft and 12 ships continued to scan the
ocean surface for debris from the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 en route
from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
Radar and satellite data show the plane mysteriously veered far off course
for unknown reasons and would have run out of fuel in the remote section of the
southern Indian Ocean where the search has been focused. Not one piece of
debris has been recovered since the massive hunt began.
The tiresome search, which continues to raise more questions than answers,
has tormented the families whose loved ones were aboard Flight 370. About
two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese.
On Friday, around three dozen Chinese relatives held a prayer meeting in
Beijing for their missing spouses. Many sobbed heavily as candles burned on a
table in the shape of a heart with "MH370" in the middle. A banner behind them
read in Chinese: "Husband, wife, come home soon."
There have been numerous leads throughout the painstaking hunt, but all have
turned out to be false. The latest hope involved an oil slick found near the
underwater search area, but analysis of a sample taken from the site found it
was not connected to the plane.
The most promising development came when four underwater signals were
detected April 5 and 8. The sounds were consistent with pings that would have
been emanating from the flight data and cockpit recorders' beacons before their
The underwater operation is being complicated by the depth of the largely
unexplored silt-covered sea floor. The U.S. Navy's unmanned submarine has gone
beyond its recommended limit of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), according to the
U.S. 7th Fleet. That could risk the equipment, but it is being closely
The search coordination center has said the hunt for floating debris on the
surface will continue at least into next week, even though the head of the
search effort, Angus Houston, had earlier said it was expected to end sooner.
On Saturday, the visual surface search was to cover an estimated 50,200
square kilometers (19,382 square miles) of sea.