Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Bluefin-21 May Be Reprogrammed For Deeper Search, Oil Slick Discovery Not Aircraft Oil

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Over a month since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing, the search continues for the Malaysian Boeing 777-200ER below the surface of the waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

After pings from Flight MH370’s black box went silent over the weekend, the focus of the search shifted to the sea floor. On Thursday, while air and ocean surface vehicles continued to scour their assigned search areas, the ADV Ocean Shield deployed the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) again, with the hopes that it may find any physical sign of Flight MH370 on sea floor of the southern Indian Ocean.

The Bluefin 21 was deployed multiple times earlier this week. However, its underwater missions were setback by some technical difficulties. Among some of the issues experienced, the Bluefin-21 was automatically forced to surface after it exceeded its maximum operational depth limit of 4,500 meters while traversing the ocean floor.

While the ocean floor may be too deep for official operational limits for the Bluefin 21, there’s hope that the AUV could be reprogrammed to operate at greater depths.

Phoenix International, the manufacturer behind the Bluefin-21 assessed that there’s a “small but acceptable” risk of operating the Bluefin-21 AUV below 4,500 meters according to an official statement from the Australian Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC).

According to the JACC, the expansion of the Bluefin-21’s maximum operation depth will allow the AUV to scan the current search area within predicted limits.

The JACC refuted media reports which claimed the underwater search for Flight MH370 using the Bluefin-21 would take anywhere from six weeks to two months to scan the entire underwater search area. In addition, it also confirmed that an oil slick discovered by the vessel ADV Ocean Shield was not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid.

While a definitive timeline of the underwater search for Flight MH370 was not given, the JACC emphasized that acoustic analysis of signal detections by the towed pinger locator on the ADV Ocean Shield has helped to narrow the search area for Flight MH370 significantly.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing along with its 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers on board in the early hours of March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, China, triggering a massive search spanning the waters of Southeast Asia and the southern Indian Ocean.

MH370-Bluefin 21 AUV

The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is craned over the side of the Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defense Force. Australian Defence Force/Handout via Reuters

MH370 P-3C Orion

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion aircraft flies past the British naval ship HMS Echo in the southern Indian Ocean as they continue to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in this handout picture released by the Australian Defense Force. Australian Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

MH370 RHIB April 17

Standing in a rigid hull inflatable boat launched from the Australian Navy ship HMAS Perth, Boatswain's Mate, Able Seaman Morgan Macdonald observes markers dropped from a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3K Orion after an object was sighted in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 17, 2014. Australian Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

2014-04-17 AMSA Handout MH370

A map of areas searched and Thursday search areas for Flight MH370 Australian Maritime Safety Authority

MH370 Bluefin 21 April 17 2

The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle sits in the water after being deployed from the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defense Force April 17, 2014. Australian Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

MH370 RHIB April 17 2

Standing in a rigid hull inflatable boat launched from the Australian Navy ship HMAS Perth, Leading Seaman, Boatswain's Mate, William Sharkey searches for possible debris in the southern Indian Ocean in the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 17, 2014. Australian Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

MH370 Ilyushin April 17

A Chinese Ilyushin IL -76s aircraft lands at Perth International Airport after flying over the southern Indian Ocean as part of the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 April 17, 2014. Reuters/Rob Griffiths

MH370 P3 Orion south Korea

A South Korean P3 Orion aircraft takes off from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Pearce Airbase, near Perth, as it participates in the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 over the southern Indian Ocean April 17, 2014. Reuters/Greg Wood

MH370 April 17 Briefing

Commanding Officer of the Chinese Coast Guard vessel Haixun 01, Captain Jiang Long (R), gives a briefing to Senior Colonel Ma Liedong, Australian Navy Staff Officer Sub-Lieutenant Phillip Wagner, and Commander of Joint Task Force 658, Commodore Peter Leavy, (L-R) about the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force on April 17, 2014. Australian Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

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