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The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is "the most challenging search I've ever seen," the commander of one of the key military ships involved said Sunday.

Commander Phillip Newell of the British Navy ship HMS Echo said the task facing his crew was the toughest he had seen despite the vessel’s "world-leading capability" in collecting data from the bottom of the sea.

The Echo just arrived in the search area last week to hunt down the jets elusive flight recorder.

Using a depth probe attached to the ship with a 13,000 feet cable, the ship is mapping the floor of the Indian Ocean in the zone where sonar pings have been heard, likely from the black box on board doomed Flight MH370.

The area is so remote that little data exists about the sea bed, making it hard for sonic experts to narrow down the possible areas where the Boeing 777 could be located.

Information from HMS Echo is being passed to the Australian naval ship, Ocean Shield, which is towing a detector that can pick up any pings from the wreckage.

“We can deploy into depths to measure oceanographic observations that help define sonar prediction,” Newell said, adding that the area being searched had “very difficult oceanographic conditions.”

“HMS Echo has world-leading capability in collecting oceanographic and hydrographic data and in my 20 years’ experience with the Royal Navy this is most challenging search I've ever seen,” he said.

— Alastair Jamieson and Annabel Roberts