Submarine in Missing Plane Hunt Covers Two-Thirds of Area

Apr 21, 2014 1:39 am ET

(Updates with comment from police in eighth paragraph. For more on Flight 370, see EXT3 <GO>.)

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- An unmanned submarine hunting for a missing Malaysian aircraft has covered two-thirds of a targeted underwater search area in the Indian Ocean without finding any wreckage.

The Bluefin-21 is diving within a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius of an area where signals were detected on April 8 that may have been emitted by one of Flight 370’s black boxes, said the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, the Australian agency set up to oversee the operation from Perth. The submarine will start its ninth mission later today and as many as 10 planes and 11 ships will comb 49,491 square kilometers of ocean for debris, it said by e-mail.

At 45 days, the hunt for the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. jet, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board, is the longest for a missing passenger plane in modern aviation history. The Bluefin-21’s side-scan sonar, which bounces sound waves off the ocean floor to create images of the seabed, is pivotal to the search for wreckage because the batteries in the aircraft’s black boxes have probably expired.

No signals have been detected since four audio pulses, which may have come from the crash-proof recorders, were detected from April 5 to April 8. The use of the submarine is the latest phase of an international search for the plane’s black boxes.

Black Boxes

Finding the cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders are key to determining why the Boeing Co. 777-200ER jet vanished.

Flight 370’s disappearance has baffled authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The widebody plane vanished from civilian radars while headed north over the Gulf of Thailand, then doubled back and flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into some of the world’s most remote waters.

While the motive behind that heading remains unknown, MH370 was deliberately steered south on a path ending in the Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said. There were no survivors, Najib said.

Malaysian police are continuing with their investigations and have interviewed 260 people so far, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a text message today.

“Investigations are still on-going and nothing can be revealed yet,” he said. “We will investigate as long as it takes to find out what really happened.”

The cause of the disappearance might never be known, Khalid said April 3, according to a recording provided by a member of his communication staff.

Another Malaysian Air plane had to deal with an emergency today. Flight 192 landed safely in Kuala Lumpur at 1:56 a.m. after bursting one of the tires in the right landing gear during takeoff to Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore. All 159 passengers and seven crew on board the 737-800 disembarked and the flight has been re-timed, according to a statement from the carrier.