Tuesday 15 April 2014:
The unmanned submersible vehicle deployed to search for flight MH370 was forced to return to the surface after exceeding its maximum operating depth.
The Bluefin-21 vessel was launched from the Ocean Shield ship on Monday, but only completed around six hours of its mission before it exceeded its operating limit of 4,500 metres below sea-level. After this, the sub’s built-in safety device forced it to return to the surface.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said the six hours of data is now being extracted and analysed. Despite the setback, the JACC said Bluefin-21 will be redeployed to scan the seabed for the wreckage of flight MH370.
Update one (Monday 14 April):
A submersible vehicle has been deployed in the hunt for flight MH370, after an oil slick was spotted in the search area.
At a press briefing in Perth on Monday, the head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), Angus Houston, confirmed that the Bluefin-21 unmanned submersible will be deployed to search the sea floor.
And while the deployment of the sub is based on four signals previously picked up by an underwater detector, the sub will also explore an area where oil has been found floating on the ocean’s surface.
Bluefin-21 will take approximately two hours to reach the seabed, and each mission will take a minimum of 24 hours to complete. During the missions, the sub will scan 3-D maps of the sea floor, which will then be analysed by investigators.
“As I have said before, aircraft wreckage needs to be visually identified before we can say with certainty that this is the final resting place of MH370,” said Houston. “I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the… underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not. However, this is the best lead we have and it must be pursued vigorously.”
Houston added that the underwater search would be a “slow and painstaking process”.
The sub’s deployment follows the discovery of oil in the current search area. The slick was detected by the Ocean Shield search vessel and a sample has been collected and sent away for testing.
The submersible vehicle now appears to be the best hope of finding the wreckage of the missing aircraft. No electronic pulses have been picked up since last week, making it increasingly likely that the batteries in the black boxes have already expired.