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Mini-sub to join hunt for missing jet

  Sonar loaded robot could provide conclusive proof


SYDNEY: A torpedo-shaped mini-sub could provide conclusive proof that the missing Malaysia jetliner crashed into the Indian Ocean, but the task is set to push the machine to its limits.

The Bluefin-21, a 4.93m long sonar device, is expected to be deployed to the ocean floor in the days ahead to look for debris from the flight MH370 which vanished on March 8.

Angus Houston, who heads the agency coordinating the eight-nation hunt, said that after more work to detect ‘pings’ consistent with those issued from aircraft black boxes the autonomous submersible could be deployed in the remote area off Western Australia where the search is focused.

Once in the water, if the device detects something unusual using the sonar, it can be brought to the surface and sent down again equipped with a video camera to provide the visual evidence of a crash.

“You can’t have the side sonar and the camera down there together, it’s one or the other,” the retired air chief marshal Houston told the ABC. “We will continue sortie after sortie until such time as we pick up evidence that there’s something unusual on the ocean floor. We would then send down the camera. “What we’re after is wreckage, a debris field as people would say.”

The Bluefin-21 has not yet been sent down because it cannot be deployed while the US Navy’s towed pinger locator, the device attached to the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, which had picked up the sounds, is in use.

But once the batteries in the black box recorders expire, something which is expected to occur in coming days given they have a life-span of about 30 days, the Bluefin-21 is expected to be deployed.

The device, which weighs 750kg, can operate at a depth of up to 4,500m —the depth of the ocean floor where the pings were detected. “It can’t go deeper than that, so it’s quite incredible how finely balanced all of this is,” Houston said.

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