PERTH: The hunt for a missing Malaysian plane suffered another setback yesterday when a second seabed search by a mini-submarine was cut short due to “technical” troubles after the first also aborted in very deep water.
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) issued a brief statement which spoke of an unspecified “technical issue” with the unmanned Bluefin-21 sonar device.
The first mission which began Monday night aborted automatically after breaching the machine’s maximum operating depth of 4,500 metres.
But there was no explanation for what caused the interruption of the second mission, which began Tuesday night, or how long it lasted.
“The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, Bluefin-21, was forced to resurface this morning to rectify a technical issue,” JACC said.
“Bluefin-21 was then redeployed and it is currently continuing its underwater search.”
Before the device was put in the water for the third time, data had been downloaded from the vehicle while on the deck of the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, which has led the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard.
“Initial analysis of the data downloaded this morning indicates no significant detections,” JACC said.
The Bluefin’s first mission, cut short after just six of an intended 16 hours mapping the seabed with sonar, had also drawn a blank.
After more than three weeks of hunting for black box signals, the autonomous sub was deployed for the first time on Monday night.
The US navy explained that the Bluefin-21 had automatically aborted its first mission after six hours upon breaching its maximum operating depth.
JACC added that it had “exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 metres and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface.”
The sub was undamaged and had to be re-programmed, said US Navy Captain Mark Matthews.
Questions were raised about how deep the seabed may be in the search area.
JACC chief Angus Houston has stressed that the AUV cannot operate below 4,500 metres and that other vehicles would have to be brought in to cope with greater depths. AFP