The underwater hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will pause next week, as authorities prepare for a new phase of the search involving the deployment of commercially-contracted underwater vehicles.
Bluefin-21, a U.S. Navy submersible, remains in the search area and will keep scanning the ocean floor for another week, said the Joint Agency Coordination Center, the Australian agency leading the search. The Australian ship that has been carrying the submersible, Ocean Shield, is expected to depart the search zone next Wednesday.
A Chinese ship called Zhu Kezhen, meanwhile, has left the port of Fremantle to start surveying parts of the seabed mapped out by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Its work will pave the way for the commercially-contracted deep ocean search, JACC said. It didn’t provide guidance for when that search will commence.
Another Chinese vessel, Haixun 01, will start heading to the survey area on Thursday to provide operations support, including transporting survey data to shore for processing.
Flight 370 was carrying 239 passengers and crew when it vanished from civilian radar en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. An international search was eventually drawn to a deep patch of the southern Indian Ocean around 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, based on an interpretation of satellite and other data.
Authorities were emboldened last month by the detection of pulse signals that may have come from the missing aircraft’s black box flight recorders. The batteries on the flight recorders have since expired, and it remains unclear if they were the true source of the pings.
Bluefin-21 is currently searching the remaining areas in the vicinity of the pulses detected in April.
“This continues the process that will ultimately enable the search team to discount or confirm the area of the acoustic signals as the final resting place of MH370,” JACC said.
Write to Ross Kelly at [email protected]
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