Search teams racing against time to find the flight recorders from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crisscrossed another patch of the Indian Ocean yesterday, four weeks to the day after the plane vanished.
A multinational team is desperately trying to spot debris or sound signals from the recorders that could lead them to the aircraft and help unravel the mystery of its fate.
Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to backtrack to where the plane hit the water. Beacons in the black boxes emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last about a month.
So far, there is no sign of the Boeing 777 that disappeared on March 8 and officials say the hunt for the wreckage is among the hardest ever undertaken, and is set to get much harder still if the beacons fall silent before they are found.
“Where we’re at right now, four weeks since this plane disappeared, we’re much, much closer, but, frustratingly, we’re still miles away from finding it,” AirlineRatings.com editor-in-chief Geoffrey Thomas said.
He said that if the pings fall silent, “what we may then do is start an enormous international effort to actually survey the Indian Ocean floor,” but added that such an effort “will take years and years to do.”
The recorders could help determine why the flight, which vanished while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, veered so far off-course.
Two ships that can pick up the pings, the Royal Australian Navy’s Ocean Shield and the British HMS Echo, yesterday returned to an area investigators hope is close to where the jet went down.
Royal Australian Air Force Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Center, acknowledged that the search area was essentially a best guess and that the time for the beacons to shut down was “getting pretty close.”
Up to 13 military and civilian planes and nine other ships were also taking part in the search, said the center, which is expediting the search under Houston’s command.
Weather conditions have regularly hampered crews trying to spot debris, but were fair yesterday, with some rain expected, the center said.
Because the US Navy’s locator can pick up signals to a depth of 6,100m, it should be able to hear the recorders even if they are in the deepest part of the search zone about 5,800m beneath the surface of the ocean. However, the locator still needs to be within range of the black boxes and that is a tough task, given the size of the search area and that the locator has to be dragged through the water slowly.