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Jet Hunt: Sonar Search Expected to Move Beyond Target Area

The intense sonar search of a 120-square-mile section of the Indian Ocean floor has turned up no sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
Image: The Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis
The Bluefin-21 is hauled aboard the ship Ocean Shield after completing a recent mission.LSIS BRADLEY DARVILL / Australian Defence via AFP - Getty Images

An intense sonar search of a particular area of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet was expected to be completed in a mission beginning Sunday, authorities said.

An air and surface search was suspended Sunday because of poor weather, but a U.S. Navy submersible was expected to scan the ocean floor — its 15th mission focusing on the 120-square-mile area west of Australia.

The Bluefin-21 robot submersible is creating a three-dimensional map of the bottom in an area where signals that could have been from the jetliner’s black boxes were heard more than two weeks ago. But with nearly all of the area scanned so far, no sign of wreckage has been found.

Steve March, left, and Mike Unzicker recover the Bluefin-21 sonar robot onto the Australian vessel Ocean Shield on April 21.Australian Defence via Reuters

The Australian search coordination said the Bluefin-21 was expected to complete scanning the target area during Sunday’s mission, then move to adjacent areas. The sub spends four hours traveling to and from the sea bed, and 16 hours searching the ocean floor. It takes another four hours to download data from each search.

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston said last week that an announcement was likely this week on the next phase of the search for the jetliner. It vanished with 239 passengers and crew — mostly Chinese — on board March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Phoenix International, the company that owns the torpedo-shaped Bluefin-21 and is contracted by the U.S. Navy, said the sub’s schedule remains under discussion.

The Pentagon said Thursday the Defense Department has spent $11.4 million on the search to date.

Australian officials, meanwhile, are hoping to bring in a more powerful sonar submarine that can plunge the full 6,000 meters to the ocean floor. The Bluefin-21 has the capability of reaching a depth of a little more than 4,500 meters.

— with The Associated Press