Robotic sub aborts first search for Malaysian jet after reaching maximum depth in Indian Ocean

A robotic submarine hunting for the missing Malaysian jet aborted its first mission after only six hours, surfacing with no new clues when it exceeded its maximum depth along the floor of the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

PERTH, Australia — A robotic submarine hunting for the missing Malaysian jet aborted its first mission after only six hours, surfacing with no new clues when it exceeded its maximum depth along the floor of the Indian Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

Search crews sent the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin 21 into the depths Monday to begin scouring the seabed for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 after failing for six days to detect any new signals believed to be coming from its black boxes.

But the 16-hour mission was cut short when the unmanned sub, which is programmed to hover 30 metres (100 feet) above the seabed, entered a patch that was deeper than its maximum depth of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet), the search co-ordinationcentre and the U.S. Navy said.

A built-in safety feature returned the Bluefin to the surface and it was not damaged, they said.

The data collected by the sub was later analyzed and no sign of the missing plane was found, the U.S. Navy said. Crews were shifting the Bluefin’s search area away from the deepest water and were hoping to send it back on another mission later Tuesday.

Search authorities had known the primary search area for Flight 370 was near the limit of the Bluefin’s dive capabilities. Deeper-diving submersibles have been evaluated, but none is yet available to help.

A safety margin would have been included in the Bluefin’s program to protect the device from harm if it went a bit deeper than its 4,500-meter limit, said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney.

“Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting,” he said. “They may not have very reliable prior data for the area.”

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick about 5,500 metres (3.4 miles) from the area where the last underwater sounds were detected.

Crews collected an oil sample and sent it back to Perth in western Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days, said Angus Houston, the head of the joint agency co-ordinating the search off Australia’s west coast.

He said it does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

The Bluefin can create a three-dimensional sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor. But the search is more challenging in this area because the seabed is covered in silt that could potentially cover part of the plane.

“What they’re going to have to be looking for is contrast between hard objects, like bits of a fuselage, and that silty bottom,” Williams said. “With the types of sonars they are using, if stuff is sitting up on top of the silt, say a wing was there, you could likely see that … but small items might sink down into the silt and be covered and then it’s going to be a lot more challenging.”

The search moved below the surface after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with signals from an aircraft’s black boxes, which record flight data and cockpit conversations. The devices emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but their batteries last only about a month and no sounds have been heard for seven days.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were “very confident” the underwater signals were from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese.

Houston said Monday that the signals were a promising lead, but that finding aircraft wreckage in the remote, deep patch of ocean remains extremely difficult.

The submarine is programmed to take 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the seafloor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to upload the data.

The black boxes could contain the key to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and an analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don’t know why.

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s defence minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, pledged to reveal the full contents of the black boxes if they are found.

“It’s about finding out the truth,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “There is no question of it not being released.”

Up to 11 planes and as many ships were scouring a 62,000-square kilometre (24,000-square mile) patch of ocean about 2,200 kilometres (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth on Tuesday, hunting for any floating debris.

The weekslong surface search is expected to end in the next two days. Officials haven’t found a single piece of debris confirmed to be from the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be found have “greatly diminished.”

Just Posted

Bowden Institution Black Press file photo
Bowden Institution inmate dies from COVID-19 complications

Bowden death the sixth in Canada’s federal prison system

(Contributed)
FOUND: Red Deer youth missing

Red Deer RCMP thank the public for their assistance

President Joe Biden delivers remarks about COVID vaccinations in the South Court Auditorium at the White House, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Biden team moves swiftly to tackle pipeline political peril

Executive order issued to improve cybersecurity

Street racers gather the evening of Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in the parking lot of the Goodwill on Northeast Marine Drive and 122nd Avenue in Portland, Ore. Across America, police are confronting illegal drag racing whose popularity has surged since the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns began. Drivers have blocked off roads to race and to etch donut patterns on pavement with the tires of their souped-up cars. From Portland, Oregon; to Albuquerque, New Mexico; from Nashville, Tennessee; to New York City, officials are reporting a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, uptick in street racing. (Anna Spoerre /The Oregonian via AP)
US cities see surge in deadly street racing amid pandemic

Shutdowns associated with the pandemic cleared normally clogged highways

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and several members of city council helped kick off the spring Green Deer cleanup campaign on Wednesday. Veer said city workers do their best to keep the city looking good, but need volunteer help to get rid of litter that has blown into bushes onto road sides over the winter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)
Red Deer city councillors launch spring Green Deer campaign

Volunteers are needed to keep the city looking good

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, center, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Columbus Crew with teammates from left, forward Tsubasa Endoh, defender Omar Gonzalez and forward Patrick Mullins during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Bradley, Altidore scores in Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over Crew

ORLANDO, Fla (AP) — Michael Bradley had a goal and an assist,… Continue reading

A football with the CFL logo sits on a chair during a press conference in Winnipeg, Friday, November 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Former defensive lineman Klassen tackling retirement as he did opposing quarterbacks

Klassen spent seven CFL seasons with Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa

FILE - Contestant Lauren Spencer-Smith on an episode of ABC’s American Idol. (American Idol/ABC photo)
‘American Idol’ contestant exits show amid video controversy

A 16-year-old “American Idol” contestant has dropped out of the singing competition… Continue reading

FILE - Ellen DeGeneres appears during a taping of the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” in Burbank, Calif. on May 24, 2016. DeGeneres, who has seen ratings hit after allegations of running a toxic workplace, has decided her upcoming season next year will be the last. It coincides with the end of her contract. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Ellen DeGeneres to end long-running TV talk show next year

Viewership dropped by 1.1 million people this season

Ottawa Senators centre Josh Norris, right, celebrates his game-winning overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs with left wing Brady Tkachuk Wednesday May 12, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, holds up the trophy after beating Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, in the final at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, in Montreal on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Philadelphia Flyers' Travis Sanheim (6) and Brian Elliott (37) celebrate with teammates after the Flyers won an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

FILE - John Davidson, left, president of the New York Rangers, and Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton pose at a news conference in New York, in this Wednesday, May 22, 2019, file photo. The New York Rangers abruptly fired president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 with three games left in the season. Chris Drury was named president and GM. He previously served as associate GM under Davidson and Gorton. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

Most Read