The Australian authorities announced today that they will stop detecting for signals coming from the Indian Ocean floor and will now deploy the Bluefin 21, an autonomic underwater vehicle.
Marshal Aungus Houston said:
"We haven't had a single detection in six days. It's time to go underwater."
Bluefin 21 will go firstly equipped with side-scan sonar. It is an acoustic technology used to create pictures reflecting sounds. The search has been narrowed to the area of the four detected pings. Still, the task of the investigators is difficult and Houston warned:
"This will be a slow and painstaking process."
Each deployment of the AUV will be 24-hour. Bluefin 21 needs two hours before it is ready to get down to the ocean floor. Then, it needs 16 hours to scour the underwater surface, another two hours to resurface and 4 hours to download the collected data and analyze it.
The first deployment of Bluefin 21 will cover an area 3.1 miles x 4.9 miles (5 km x 8 km). Most of the area is flat and rolling, not so sharply mountainous. The main difficulties will come from the silt covering the bottom of the ocean. The estimations show that Bluefin 21 can scan the whole search area for a period of 6 weeks to 2 months.
Meanwhile, a new clue has been detected by Ocean Shield. On Sunday evening, the Australian navy vessel found an oil slick. It still has not been cleared where the oil came from, sample of 2 liters has been collected for examination. It will be ready in a few-day time.
"I stress the source of the oil has yet to be determined, but the oil slick is approximately 5,500 meters (3.4 miles) downwind ... from the vicinity of the detections of the TPL on Ocean Shield."
The search area today spreads over 47,600 sq km (18,400 sq miles), 12 aircraft and 15 vessel are conducting the operations.
"The air and surface search for floating material will be completed in the next two to three days in the area where the aircraft most likely entered the water,"said Angus Houston.
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