Submarine in Missing-Jet Hunt Has Covered Half of Search Area

An unmanned submarine hunting for a missing Malaysian aircraft has covered half of a targeted underwater search area as it starts its eighth mission in the Indian Ocean today.

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 Australian Maritime Safety Authority has also planned a visual search of about 48,507 square kilometers, it said on its website.

The submarine has failed to find “contacts of interest” after completing its seventh dive overnight, according to the JACC. It’s expected to end its current mission in five to seven days, the agency said yesterday.

At 44 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 Boeing Co. 777 was enroute to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. As many as 11 military aircraft and 12 ships were combing for debris off Western Australia today.

The Bluefin-21’s side-scan sonar is pivotal to the search for wreckage because the batteries in the aircraft’s black boxes have probably expired. Four audio pulses from the crash-proof recorders were detected from April 5 to April 8.

The submarine, which bounces sound waves off the ocean floor to create images of the seabed, is designed to be deployed for 24 hours at a time. Its first foray was cut short when a built-in safety feature forced a return to the surface after it dived deeper than its operating limit of 4,500 meters.

A second attempt was interrupted by a battery malfunction, according to Jim Gibson, the general manager of Phoenix International Holdings Inc., the contractor performing the search. The software has been adjusted to allow the submarine to go deeper, the JACC has said.

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