A US Navy “black box” detector made its much-anticipated debut in the oceanic hunt for flight MH370 yesterday, but Australia’s search chief warned it was crunch time with the box’s signal set to expire soon.
As the extensive search wore on, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he believed the country’s long-ruling regime was concealing information on the crisis, saying “the government knows more than us.”
The Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield arrived with a “towed pinger locator” capable of homing in on signals from the black box, as 14 planes scoured the remote Indian Ocean search area for signs of a crash site.
The plane disappeared on March 8, and Australian authorities coordinating the search have rushed the pinger device into place before the black box’s battery-powered location signal expires.
“On best advice, the locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions, so we’re now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire,” said Angus Houston, head of a coordination center directing the eight-nation search.
The plane went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, confounding aviation experts and sparking criticism of Malaysian authorities who have been unable to explain how the jumbo jet vanished.
Anwar said he was “baffled” by the Malaysian military’s failure to respond despite detecting the plane crossing back over the country’s airspace following its mysterious detour.
“Unfortunately the manner in which this was handled after the first few days was clearly suspect,” Anwar said in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Malaysian authorities say they still have no idea what caused the plane to veer off course, but believe that satellite data indicates MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean, far off western Australia.
No debris has been found despite an extensive search. An approximate crash site needs to be determined for a black box search to be effective.
Houston said Ocean Shield, using the pinger locator, joined in an underwater search with the British navy’s hydrographic ship HMS Echo, which on Thursday began scanning for black box transmissions.
“The Royal Australian Navy and Royal Navy have today commenced sub-surface search for emissions from the black box pinger from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” he said.
The Ocean Shield also bore an underwater drone vehicle “for mapping the seafloor,” authorities said.
Houston said planes and ships would continue looking for floating debris.
Malaysia’s government has a poor record on transparency, but Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this week it was “not hiding anything.”
Anwar, who recently had his acquittal on sodomy charges overturned in what he claims is a political smear by the government, said a “sophisticated” radar system that he authorized as finance minister in 1994 should have led to prompt military action.
Malaysia’s armed forces said soon after the plane disappeared that military radar had picked up an unidentified object moving toward the Indian Ocean, but they did nothing because it was not deemed “hostile.”
The decision has been criticized for losing valuable time in tracking MH370.
It took Malaysia one week to confirm the radar blip was MH370, and to subsequently reorient a huge search away from its initial focus in the South China Sea.