13 April 2014
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is warning that the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight is likely to be long after pings believed to be from locator beacons on the all-important black boxes fell silent, meaning the batteries have most probably died.
The last of four strong signals coming from 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) below the surface were heard on the 8 April. The batteries on the black boxes, which record flight data including conversations from the cockpit, only last a month, meaning the window has passed.
The pings already captured have however allowed the search area to be narrowed down to a 500-square-mile patch of the seabed – about the size of Los Angeles. Once officials are confident no more sounds will be heard, and the search area can be narrowed no further, a robotic submersible will be sent down to slowly scour for wreckage across the vast area.
The Bluefin 21 submersible will take six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and will need about six weeks to two months to canvass the current underwater zone.
“No one should underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us,” Mr Abbott said in Beijing on Saturday, the last day of his China trip.
“There’s still a lot more work to be done and I don’t want anyone to think that we are certain of success, or that success, should it come, is going to happen in the next week or even month. There’s a lot of difficulty and a lot of uncertainty left in this,” he added.
Mr Abbott had met with Chinese President Xi Jinping a day earlier to brief him on the search for the plane, which was carrying 239 people – most of them Chinese – when it disappeared on 8 March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
After analyzing satellite data, officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia’s west coast.