Bluefin-21 Faces Second Technical Issue Since Maiden Mission

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PERTH, April 26 – The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) codenamed Bluefin-21 faced a second technical issue Friday since its maiden underwater mission to search for the whereabouts of missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370. The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which oversees the search operation, said the unmanned-vehicle was brought up again early into its 13th mission on Friday due to a software issue that required resetting. It said the AUV has technically sophisticated equipment, and a reset was not uncommon, and the issue nonetheless had been resolved overnight by technicians. Meanwhile, the 14th mission was now underway, the agency said in a statement here Saturday.

On April 16, the Bluefin-21, which was on its second mission, faced a technical issue which forced it to abort the mission and resurface. However, it was again redeployed to continue its mission underwater on the same day after the issue was resolved. Today marks the 50th day of the search operation for Flight MH370, and until now there has been no contact of interest on the sea surface or underwater. The Bluefin-21 was dispatched on its maiden mission on April 14 in the hope of locating any debris of the missing plane underwater following no further confirmed signals picked up by the Towed Pinger Locator since April 8. It uses acoustic sounds to create a three dimensional map of the sea floor and will take a minimum of 24 hours to complete each mission, which includes four hours to download data collected.

To date, it has covered 95 per cent of the focus underwater search area, said JACC. The agency said on the sea surface visual search operation, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has planned a search area of approximately 57,311 square kilometres with its centre lying approximately 1,584 km northwest of Perth. Up to eight military aircraft and 11 ships will continue the visual search Saturday. “The weather forecast for today is isolated showers, with southeasterly winds up to 20 knots, sea swells of two to 2.5 metres and visibility of one kilometre in thunderstorms and three kilometres in rain,” the agency added.

Flight MH370, with 239 people aboard, left the KL International Airport at 12.41 am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea. It was to have arrived in Beijing at 6.30 am on the same day. A multinational search was mounted for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, first in the South China Sea and then, after it was learnt that the plane had veered off course, in the southern Indian Ocean. After an analysis of satellite data indicated that the plane’s last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on March 24 that Flight MH370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”.

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