ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
MH370 CRASH: Ship carrying black box detector to set sail for search site
Publication Date : 31-03-2014
A ship fitted with a black box locator will set off for the southern Indian Ocean today as a multinational search party races to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines plane before its black box battery dies.
The equipment cannot, however, be used until debris from the plane is found and traced back to its crash site.
Much of the three-week-old hunt for Flight MH370 is still focused on a visual scan of the surface of the sea some 1,850km west of Perth, over an area 319,000 sq km in size - slightly smaller than the size of Malaysia.
Yesterday, a total of nine aircraft as well as eight ships were involved in the search.
The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner that left Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board was due to arrive in Beijing on March 8.
It disappeared from civilian radar screens that morning and mysteriously veered far off-course into the southern Indian Ocean, investigations show.
Any debris sighted needs to be identified with the missing plane before experts can zero in on its real location on the seabed and solve what has turned out to be one of the world's biggest aviation puzzles yet.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday appointed former defence chief Angus Houston as the head of a new coordination centre that will work with search partners, including Malaysia, the United States, China, Japan and New Zealand.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre will also help relatives of passengers with travel advice and interpretation services.
Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein promised on Saturday to set up an international panel to look into the plane's disappearance.
The American black box detector picks up the "pings" emitted by beacons in the flight data recorders, but it can scan only a distance of 1.6km at one time and has to be towed at a maximum speed of about 5kmh.
The US Navy's Captain Mark Matthews, overseeing the operations of the towed pinger locator, told reporters at Stirling naval base, south of Perth, yesterday: "If we find debris today, it has been in the water 22 days. Where did it start (from) 22 days ago? That is what we need the oceanographers to model.
"Right now, with hundreds of thousands of sq km of search area, I don't know where to start."
On paper, the beacons can send out signals for 30 days, but "in our experience, they last a bit longer than that", he said.
"Every day past 30 days, there is a lower and lower probability," he said.
"Certainly, 45 days is the realistic point to say the 'pinger' is probably no longer emitting."
The Australian ship Ocean Shield, on which the towed pinger locator would be fitted, will take about three days to get to the site.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a Facebook post last night that his government is fully committed to the search operation and will not stop until the plane is found.
He also thanked the Australian government and other nations involved in the search efforts for the missing jetliner.
Malaysia Airlines said yesterday it would make arrangements to fly family members to Perth once wreckage is found.