Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Underwater Drone Joins Search for Wreckage
The Bluefin-21 underwater drone can dive as deep as 4,500 metres and operating for up to 24 hours at slower speeds.
By Tereza Pultarova, The Institution of Engineering and Technology - Filed Mar 25, 2014

A US undersea drone will join the international fleet of vessels and aircraft in efforts to locate the wreckage of the lost MH370 plane in the waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

The sonar-equipped Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle can dive as deep as 4,500 metres and keep operating for up to 24 hours at slower speeds. 5-metres long and weighing about 800kg, the unmanned submarine, offered to the rescue teams by Pentagon, can help track down the aircraft’s flight data recorders, known as black boxes, which are vital for understanding the causes of the plane’s so far inexplicable detour and disappearance.

Following the announcement confirming the last known position of the aircraft was in the region west off the coast of Perth, Australia, where scattered debris has been observed in the past days via satellites and search planes, Pentagon has sent the equipment to Australia where it is expected to arrive on Tuesday. 

The bluefin underwater drone is a second piece of cutting edge equipment offered by American military as time to locate the plane's black boxes is running out. A Towed Pinger Locater, designed to be towed behind a commercial ship, listening to to the possible signal from the flight data recorders, has already been dispatched. 

The flight data recorders transmit low frequency acoustical signal that can be intercepted at rather short distances - up to 10 to 15 kilometres. However, the battery powering the transmitters only lasts about 30 days, meaning more than a half of its active time has already passed.

The towed pinger locater was previously used by French authorities searching for the Air France jet liner that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009.

According to a Pentagon announcement, ten American civilian personnel and uniformed members of the military were also flying to Australia to operate or prepare the equipment.

But in both cases, the Pentagon cautioned that the US technology would only be employed once the search area was significantly narrowed. “In order for this technology to be useful, you have to have an identified area on the sea bottom that you want to go take a look at," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby. "You have to be able to go give it some parameters - and right now we're just not there."

<< Return to story