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April 15, 2014

Robotic Sub Set to Dive Again in Search for MH370

by VOA News

A robotic submarine is set to resume its search for the missing Malaysian jet in the Indian Ocean one day after aborting its first mission.

The unmanned Bluefin-21 submarine was deployed on Monday night to start what was supposed to be a 16-hour search of the seabed for the Malaysia Airlines MH370.

But the mission was cut short after the submarine entered an area that exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 meters. U.S. navy officials say its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface and that it was not damaged.

Officials say data collected from the sub's six hour mission was analyzed and showed no sign of the missing plane.

The Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC), which is coordinating the search, said the vehicle will be redeployed depending on weather conditions.

The submarine is being sent down nearly a week after sound locating equipment last heard signals that are believed to be from the missing jet's black boxes.

Locator beacons on the plane's flight recorder boxes emit signals so they can be more easily found, but their batteries only last about a month. It has been nearly 40 days since the jet went missing.

Without locating more signals, it is difficult to further narrow the area where the plane may have crashed. On Tuesday, the JACC said the visual search area was over 62,000 kilometers.

Search crews also are investigating an oil slick found in the search area. Crews have collected samples that have been sent for testing.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to sound notes of caution, stressing that trying to find anything nearly five kilometers below the surface of the Indian Ocean, 1,000 kilometers from land, is a huge task that will not likely end anytime soon.  

The small robotic sub is using sonar to chart any debris in the search for the plane's flight recorders on the sea floor. Officials say it will take 24 hours to complete each mission in which the sub will chart approximately 40 square kilometers.

The sub is not able to transmit live data as it searches the floor, so officials must bring it to the surface and analyze the data following each mission. Officials have warned the process could take up to two months.

The Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared March 8 during a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.