Search teams looking for the missing flight MH370 deployed the unmanned submarine Bluefin-21 this evening as new sightings of oil slicks in the water have given yet another fresh lead in the search for wreckage.
Angus Houston, chief of the joint search coordination, said that the drone was to be sent down to search for wreckage on the seafloor. The deployment comes amid concern that the batteries on the plane’s black box flight recorders expired, meaning that towed pinger locaters will no longer be able to pick up signals. The pinger locators, which picked up four possible detections in the past weeks, have now been taken out of the water.
Houston also revealed that the Australian vessel Ocean Shield last night had detected an oil slick on the water’s surface, but that it would take several days before samples of the substance could be analyzed fully.
According to SCMP, the Bluefin-21 sub will create a map of the ocean floor using sonar. Houston cautioned that its deployment would not necessarily “result in the detection of the aircraft” and that the search would be “a slow and painstaking process”.
It will take Bluefin-21 six times longer to cover the same area as the pinger locators towed below ship vessels, and to map out the underwater search area will take around six weeks.
Underwater robots were also used in the search for the Air France plane that crashed in 2009 on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. France and Brazil spent over 40 million USD recovering black boxes from the jet, which took two years to find.