Promising Black Box Pings Disappear in Malaysia Plane Search

The batteries of the black boxes for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may have finally ceased functioning. After several days of promising sounds received on board search ships that matched airplane emergency items, search teams have yet to hear anything new in the area and warn that the silence could delay the search for weeks.

"Today is another critical day," Australia acting Prime Minster Warren Truss told the media in Perth Tuesday as several "acoustic events" perfectly matching a flight recorder and black box have not been detected since Sunday. Truss noted that though the loss of contact with the object sending those signals was "disappointing," finding the pings would make the search easier in the long run. 

Australian authorities, who found a series of longer lasting 37.5kHz sounds in the same area that Chinese vessel Haixun 01 first caught several minutes of it, toned down yesterday's enthusiasm that they were "very close" to finding the plane. They noted, nonetheless, that the sound waves still yielded the most promising lead yet.

The lack of more information regarding the sounds also means that the search operation will halt plans to deploy a submarine vehicle to find the object. According to Chinese outlet Xinhua, Australian search operation leader Angus Houston declared that sending a submersible vehicle to the area from which the pings first came, more than one thousand feet under the ocean, would be "painstaking work" unlikely to yield answers. If more pings come, then Houston would be prepared to "go down there to have a look," but the work now focuses on confirming whether the batteries on the black boxes, set to last 30 days, are definitively no longer working. Houston promised "several days of intense action" to find out.

The Wall Street Journal noted another reason Houston is hesitant to deploy the submersible vehicle before concluding that the black boxes' batteries have expired: "The Ocean Shield cannot use its submersible drone and its black box detecting equipment at the same time." Deploying the underwater drone Bluefin 21, then, would signal to the world that there is no hope of finding the black boxes' radar signals anymore, and instead, the search would begin to scour the ocean floor with an increasingly small chance of finding any clues.

Satellite image searches for debris seem to have outlasted their usefulness in the first month of the search. While Australian authorities have said that the searches still add value, few such leads have made headlines in press conferences in the past few days, with investigators focusing on aural rather than visual cues.

As the days continue to lapse, the odds of finding Flight 370 diminish, and the search mechanisms used to find it become more sophisticated. The multinational search for the missing plane continues, and a press conference is set for Wednesday to divulge whether any new leads on the black boxes have surfaced. 


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