06/26/14

Fugro Survey Vessel Begins Mapping Ocean Floor in Search for MH370

The Fugro Equator, fitted with state-of-the art multibeam echosounder equipment, will conduct a bathymetric survey of the seafloor in the search area. Photo courtesy Fugro

The Fugro Equator, fitted with state-of-the art multibeam echosounder equipment, will conduct a bathymetric survey of the seafloor in the search area. Photo courtesy Fugro

ReutersBy Thomas Escritt

AMSTERDAM, June 19 (Reuters) – Dutch engineers this week started a months-long survey to map unchartered deep-sea terrain at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the next step in the search for the wreck of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, a company official told Reuters.

A survey ship from Dutch engineering company Fugro, carrying 40 crew and technicians, began mapping out an area larger than the Netherlands, some 1000 miles (1,600 km) east of the northwest coast of Australia.

The search for the lost plane is being coordinated by the Australian Transportation Safety Board and is expected to cost 60 million Australian dollars ($56 million) over the first year.

“It’s a rough area,” Rob Luijnenburg, strategy director at Fugro, which usually conducts surveys for oil and telecommunications companies, said in an interview on Thursday.

“The area has mountains, ridges, valleys, and you can’t see a lot down there unless you make it visible with technology,” he said. “For the first phase you need a good map. Once you have that you can plan the next phase.”

It will take roughly three months for the Fugro Equator survey ship, which is being assisted by a Chinese naval vessel, to map out the topography of the ocean floor.

Once an accurate map has been constructed with the aid of computers on board the ship, searchers can begin more detailed, slower surveys in a bid to find the wreck itself, using unmanned robots and submarines to search the ocean floor.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 crew and passengers, mostly Chinese, disappeared from radar screens on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

UNCHARTED SEABED

Investigators say what little evidence they have to work with, including the loss of communications, suggests the Boeing 777 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route.

The area being mapped is largely uncharted, Luijnenburg said, since the area’s remoteness and depth at 6,000 metres placed it beyond the reach of the oil industry, which is still pushing down to depths approaching 3,000 metres.

With a long maritime history and seafaring expertise, Dutch companies are leaders in the field of complex, large-scale undersea search and salvage operations.

Wrecks on which Dutch companies have worked include the raising of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in the depths of the Barents Sea in 2000 with the loss of all on board.

More recently, Dutch firms were contracted to help salvage the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which sank off the coast of Italy in 2012.

Fugro’s ship will use an echo sounder for the topographic mapping stage, building up a relatively low-resolution picture of the entire area as quickly as possible, its crew staying at sea for a month at a time.

“It’s extremely unlikely that we will be able to pick up something the size of an aircraft and make it out to be that at this stage,” Luijnenburg said.

Built in 2012, the vessel is one of four Fugro commissioned that is custom-built for undersea surveying, designed to be quiet and not interfere with the sensitive sonar mapping systems, which measure echoes bounced off the sea floor.

What little is known of the topography of the area comes from satellite imaging and from surveys made in the past by ships that happened to be crossing the area with sonar turned on, he said. Data gathered earlier is inaccurate, because most of it was collected without the help of satellite positioning. ($1 = 1.0710 Australian Dollars) (Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Sonya Hepinstall)

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

The post Fugro Survey Vessel Begins Mapping Ocean Floor in Search for MH370 appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

06/19/14

Fugro Survey Vessel Joins Search for Flight MH370

The Fugro Equator, fitted with state-of-the art multibeam echosounder equipment, will conduct a bathymetric survey of the seafloor in the search area. Photo courtesy Fugro

The Fugro Equator, fitted with state-of-the art multibeam echosounder equipment, will conduct a bathymetric survey of the seafloor in the search area. Photo courtesy Fugro

By Thomas Escritt

AMSTERDAM, June 19 (Reuters) – Dutch engineers this week started a months-long survey to map unchartered deep-sea terrain at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the next step in the search for the wreck of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, a company official told Reuters.

A survey ship from Dutch engineering company Fugro, carrying 40 crew and technicians, began mapping out an area larger than the Netherlands, some 1000 miles (1,600 km) east of the northwest coast of Australia.

The search for the lost plane is being coordinated by the Australian Transportation Safety Board and is expected to cost 60 million Australian dollars ($56 million) over the first year.

“It’s a rough area,” Rob Luijnenburg, strategy director at Fugro, which usually conducts surveys for oil and telecommunications companies, said in an interview on Thursday.

“The area has mountains, ridges, valleys, and you can’t see a lot down there unless you make it visible with technology,” he said. “For the first phase you need a good map. Once you have that you can plan the next phase.”

It will take roughly three months for the Fugro Equator survey ship, which is being assisted by a Chinese naval vessel, to map out the typography of the ocean floor.

Once an accurate map has been constructed with the aid of computers on board the ship, searchers can begin more detailed, slower surveys in a bid to find the wreck itself, using unmanned robots and submarines to search the ocean floor.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 crew and passengers, mostly Chinese, disappeared from radar screens on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

UNCHARTERED SEABED

Investigators say what little evidence they have to work with, including the loss of communications, suggests the Boeing 777 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers from its scheduled route.

The area being mapped is largely uncharted, Luijnenburg said, since the area’s remoteness and depth at 6,000 meters placed it beyond the reach of the oil industry, which is still pushing down to depths approaching 3,000 meters.

With a long maritime history and seafaring expertise, Dutch companies are leaders in the field of complex, large-scale undersea search and salvage operations.

Wrecks on which Dutch companies have worked include the raising of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in the depths of the Barents Sea in 2000 with the loss of all on board.

More recently, Dutch firms were contracted to help salvage the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which sank off the coast of Italy in 2012.

Fugro’s ship will use an echo sounder for the topographic mapping stage, building up a relatively low-resolution picture of the entire area as quickly as possible, its crew staying at sea for a month at a time.

“It’s extremely unlikely that we will be able to pick up something the size of an aircraft and make it out to be that at this stage,” Luijnenburg said.

Built in 2012, the vessel is one of four Fugro commissioned that is custom-built for undersea surveying, designed to be quiet and not interfere with the sensitive sonar mapping systems, which measure echoes bounced off the sea floor.

What little is known of the topography of the area comes from satellite imaging and from surveys made in the past by ships that happened to be crossing the area with sonar turned on, he said. Data gathered earlier is inaccurate, because most of it was collected without the help of satellite positioning. ($1 = 1.0710 Australian Dollars) (Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Sonya Hepinstall)

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

The post Fugro Survey Vessel Joins Search for Flight MH370 appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

05/29/14

U.S. Navy Official Says “Pings” Unlikely From Missing Malaysia Jet – Report

The block box detector had been towed by the ADV Ocean Shield, pictured here.  File photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

The block box detector had been towed by the ADV Ocean Shield, pictured here. File photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

ReutersSYDNEY, May 29 (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy official said four acoustic pings at the center of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared in March, are no longer believed to be from the aircraft’s black boxes, according to a report by CNN.

Australian search authorities narrowed the search for the missing jet last month after picking up a series of pings near where analysis of satellite data put the last location of the Boeing 777, some 1,600 km off Australia’s northwest coast.

CNN said authorities now almost universally believe the pings did not come from the onboard data or cockpit voice recorders, but instead came from some other man-made source unrelated to the jetliner that disappeared on March 8, according to Michael Dean, the U.S. Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering.

“Our best theory at this point is that (the pings were) likely some sound produced by the ship … or within the electronics of the Towed Pinger Locator,” Dean said.

The discovery of the pings on April 5 and 8 was hailed as a significant breakthrough but no further promising signals were heard before the expiry of the batteries on the black boxes’ locator beacons.

A scan of the area around the pings with an unnamed submarine failed to find any sign of wreckage and no debris linked to the plane has ever been picked up despite the most extensive and expensive search effort in aviation history.

Australian authorities leading the search did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

MH370 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew when it vanished on March 8. Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause but say the evidence, including the loss of communications, suggests it was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

(Editing by Richard Pullin)

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

The post U.S. Navy Official Says “Pings” Unlikely From Missing Malaysia Jet – Report appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

05/27/14

Inmarsat Releases MH370 Satellite Data

There were 7 "handshakes" between the ground station and the aircraft after the loss of primary radar data. The location rings, shown here, are calculated from the recorded "burst timing offset".  Source: Inmarsat/Boeing /Google

There were 7 “handshakes” between the ground station and the aircraft after the loss of primary radar data. The location rings, shown here, are calculated from the recorded “burst timing offset”. Source: Inmarsat/Boeing /Google

Reuters

By Stuart Grudgings

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s government and British satellite firm Inmarsat on Tuesday released data used to determine the path of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, responding to a clamour from passengers’ relatives for greater transparency.

The data from satellite communications with the plane, which runs to 47 pages in a report prepared by Inmarsat, features hourly “handshakes” – or network log-on confirmations – after the aircraft disappeared from civilian radar screens on March 8.

Families of passengers are hoping that opening up the data to analysis by a wider range of experts can help verify the plane’s last location, nearly three months after the Boeing 777 with 239 passengers and crew disappeared.

In-Depth: Considerations on defining the MH370 search area

The data’s release had become a rallying cry for many of the families, who have accused the Malaysian government of holding back information.

“When we first asked for the data it was more than two months ago. I never dreamed it would be such an obstacle to overcome,” Sarah Bajc, the American partner of a passenger, told Reuters from Beijing.

Based on Inmarsat’s and other investigators’ analysis of the data, the aircraft is believed to have gone down in the Indian Ocean off western Australia.

Malaysian investigators suspect someone shut off MH370′s data links making the plane impossible to track, but investigators have so far turned up nothing suspicious about the crew or passengers.

In the hours after the aircraft disappeared, an Inmarsat satellite picked up a handful of handshake “pings”, indicating the plane continued flying for hours after leaving radar and helping narrow the search to an area of the Indian Ocean.

The dense technical data released on Tuesday details satellite communications from before MH370′s take-off on a Saturday morning at 12:41 a.m. local time (1641 GMT) to a final, “partial handshake” transmitted by the plane at 8:19 a.m. (0019 GMT). The data includes a final transmission from the plane 8 seconds later, after which there was no further response.

The data also featured two “telephony calls” which an Inmarsat spokesman said were made by Malaysia Airlines from the ground, at 1839 GMT and 2313 GMT and which went unanswered by the plane. The spokesman said the existence of the two attempted calls was already in the public domain before Tuesday’s data release.

Malaysian officials were not immediately available to answer questions on the data.

A spokesman for Inmarsat said the company had released all the data it had associated with the flight.

“These 47 pages represent all the data communication logs we have in relation for MH370 and that last flight,” he said.

Bajc said experts on flight tracking who have been advising the families would now be able to analyse the data to see if the search area could be refined and determine if Inmarsat and other officials had missed anything.

But she complained that the report released on Tuesday was missing data removed to improve readability, as well as comparable records from previous flights on MH370′s route that the families had requested.

“Why couldn’t they have submitted that?” she said. “It only makes sense if they are hiding something.”

Calculations based on the pings and the plane’s speed showed the jetliner likely went down in the remote ocean 7 to 8 hours after its normal communications were apparently cut off as it headed to Beijing on its routine flight. The time of the last satellite contact was consistent with the plane’s fuel capacity.

The search in an area around 1,550 km (960 miles) northwest of Perth, Australia was further narrowed on the basis of acoustic signals believed to have come from the aircraft’s “black box” data recorders before their batteries ran out.

After the most extensive search in aviation history failed to turn up any trace of the plane, however, officials have said that it could take a year to search the 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq mile) area where it could have come down.

Malaysia, China and Australia said in mid-May they had agreed to re-examine all data related to the missing plane to better determine the search area as the hunt enters a new, deep-sea phase.

Malaysia is also leading an official international investigation under United Nations rules into the causes of the baffling incident. (Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

The post Inmarsat Releases MH370 Satellite Data appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/19/14

Search for MH370: AUV May Complete Mission Next Week

ADV Ocean Shield file photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

ADV Ocean Shield file photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

Alan Levin, Edward Johnson and Nichola Saminather

April 19 (Bloomberg) — An unmanned submarine on its seventh dive for the missing Flight MH370 may complete its mission in the southern Indian Ocean within a week, said the Australian agency conducting the search.

The Bluefin-21 is combing an area within a 10-kilometer (6- mile) radius of a black-box signal detected on April 8, according to the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth. The search is at a “critical juncture,” Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in Kuala Lumpur.

“We’re satisfied with progress so far, although there has been some planning adjustments,” the JACC said in an e-mailed response to questions today. “We should complete the search of the focused underwater area in five to seven days.”

At 43 days, the hunt for the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board, is the longest for a missing passenger jet in modern aviation history. As many as 11 military aircraft and 12 ships will comb the waters off Western Australia for debris today, while the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has planned a visual search of 50,200 square kilometers, it said earlier on its website.

The submarine failed to find “contacts of interest” during its sixth dive overnight and data from the mission is being reviewed, according to the JACC. Analysis of an oil slick found last weekend in the search area showed the substance didn’t come from an aircraft engine or hydraulic fluid, it said.

Black Boxes

The Bluefin-21’s side-scan sonar is pivotal as the batteries in Flight 370’s black boxes have probably expired. Four audio pulses from the crash-proof recorders were detected from April 5 to April 8.

Reports that the submarine could take as long as two months to scan the entire area are incorrect as detailed acoustic analysis has allowed the search to be narrowed, the Australian newspaper said today, citing JACC head Angus Houston. The former air chief marshal declined to specify how long it would take, according to the paper.

“I have to stress that this is not to stop operations but to also consider other approaches which may include widening the scope of the search and utilising other assets,” Hishammuddin said at a press briefing today. “All efforts will be intensified. Whatever the outcome of the next few days, we need to re-group and re-consider the operations.”

Route Deviation

The missing Boeing Co. 777 strayed from its intended flight path to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, turning “leftward” in Vietnamese airspace before vanishing from radar screens, CNN said on its website yesterday, citing an unnamed Malaysian aviation source. It climbed to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) and flew at that altitude for about 20 minutes over the Malaysian Peninsula before descending, it reported.

The aircraft was equipped with four emergency-locator transmitters designed to send signals to a satellite when triggered by a crash or by contact with water, CNN said.

The Bluefin-21, which bounces sound waves off the ocean floor to create images of terrain, is designed to be deployed for 24 hours at a time. Its first foray was cut short when a built-in safety feature forced a return to the surface after it dived deeper than its operating limit of 4,500 meters.

A second attempt was interrupted by a battery malfunction, according to Jim Gibson, the general manager of Phoenix International Holdings Inc., the contractor performing the search. The software has been adjusted to allow the submarine to go deeper, the JACC said.

–With assistance from David Fickling in Sydney and Chong Pooi Koon and Elffie Chew in Kuala Lumpur.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

The post Search for MH370: AUV May Complete Mission Next Week appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/15/14

AUV Aborts Subsea Search for Flight MH370

April 15 (Bloomberg) — A submarine scouring the floor of the Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysian jet had to abort its maiden voyage after descending too deep, providing investigators with less than half the data the equipment was meant to capture.

The Bluefin-21, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), was forced back to the surface by a built-in safety feature after dropping below its limit of 4,500 meters (14,800 feet), Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in an e-mailed statement. No objects of interest were found in the six hours of data that was captured, said Daniel Marciniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which operates the Bluefin-21, in an e-mailed statement.

“That’s not good news,” Robin Beaman, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, said by phone. “The critical thing is it needs to be down close to the seafloor.”

The submarine will continue its hunt later today when weather conditions permit, JACC said. As many as 11 aircraft and 11 ships will comb about 62,063 square kilometers (23,943 square miles) of ocean today for signs of debris from the jet. Investigators are relying on the submersible after stopping the use of a towed pinger locator to find the plane’s black boxes.

Bluefin-21

The use of the submarine is the latest phase of an international search for Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board. At 39 days, it’s now the longest search for a missing passenger jet in modern aviation history. No audio signals have been detected since April 8, suggesting the aircraft’s black boxes have run out of power.

The Bluefin-21 reached a depth of 4,500 meters in a charted area of 4,400 meters. This “unexpected condition” resulted in an automatic mission abort, the JACC said in a separate e-mailed statement.

“The vehicle is in good material and working condition” and wasn’t damaged in the dive, in which it travelled about 30 meters above the sea floor, Marciniak said.

The Bluefin-21, equipped with side-scan sonar, is supposed to be deployed for 24 hours at a time. It is intended to spend two hours descending, 16 hours on the ocean bottom, two hours returning to the surface, and four hours having its data downloaded, Angus Houston, who heads the JACC, told reporters yesterday. It was to search an area of about 40 square kilometers to produce a high-resolution, three-dimensional sonar map of the seabed, he said.

Extreme Pressure

Side-scan sonar need to operate close to the sea floor as it operates by casting acoustic shadows to the sides of the sensors, Beaman said. That means it works better if the sensor is low down, like the evening sun, rather than high up and casting smaller shadows like those around midday.

“The Bluefin is a very capable machine, but at 4.5 kilometers down, things implode,” Beaman said. “They run the risk of losing it entirely,” he said.

The submersible will stop its mission if the bottom drops away from it in a way that would cause it to exceed its rated depth, said David Kelly, president of Bluefin Robotics Corp., the device’s manufacturer, in an interview with Bloomberg Television. At depths of 4,500 meters, it’s “pitch black,” the water temperature is slightly above freezing and objects will be subject to high pressure, he said.

“It would be equivalent to having a Cadillac Escalade pushing down on your thumbnail,” Kelly said.

Ocean Shield

Bluefin Robotics hadn’t received any call for an alternative vehicle at this stage, he said.

The underwater sonar search could take up to two months, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The black boxes are key to determining why the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, reversing course and flying into some of the world’s most remote ocean waters. The pingers’ batteries are now a week beyond their 30-day projected life at full power.

Australia’s Ocean Shield ship, using the towed pinger locator, detected two signals on April 5 and two more on April 8, which authorities have linked to the beacons on the Boeing Co. 777-200ER’s black-box recorders. That raised optimism in the search. Hopes faded on April 11 when the JACC said an initial assessment of a fifth potential transmission wasn’t related to an aircraft black box.

Scouring the ocean surface for debris with planes and ships will be called off in two to three days as the chance of any floating material being recovered has “greatly diminished,” Houston said at a press conference in Perth yesterday.

Deliberately Steered

An oil slick found in the same area was of “super fine consistency,” Marciniak said, adding it’s being transferred to Perth.

Flight 370’s disappearance has baffled authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The widebody plane vanished from civilian radars while headed north over the Gulf of Thailand, then doubled back and flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into some of the world’s most remote waters.

While the motive behind that heading remains unknown, MH370 was deliberately steered south on a path ending in the Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said. The cause of the disappearance might never be known, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said April 3, according to a recording provided by a member of his communication staff.

Police have interviewed more than 170 people, including relatives and acquaintances of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members of Flight 370, Khalid said. A home-computer flight simulator belonging to the jet’s captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was also being probed.

Police are still investigating the pilot and the co-pilot, Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today.

–With assistance from Manirajan Ramasamy in Kuala Lumpur.

The post AUV Aborts Subsea Search for Flight MH370 appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/11/14

Australia Narrows ‘Pinger’ Search for MH370 to Within Kilometers

ADV Ocean Shield tows the 'pinger locator' in this file photo shot during the search for MH370. Photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

ADV Ocean Shield tows the ‘pinger locator’ in this file photo shot during the search for MH370. Photo courtesy Australian Government Department of Defence

April 11 (Bloomberg) — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he’s confident crews hunting for the missing Malaysian jet have narrowed down the location of its black box to “within some kilometers,” raising optimism the wreckage will be found.

“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers,” Abbott said in Shanghai today. “Still, confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost four and half kilometers beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on that flight.”

Signals detected over the past six days helped investigators focus the search for the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane in a smaller area of the southern Indian Ocean. Even so, it could take some days before submarine equipment can be deployed to visually identify any wreckage, said Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre.

There has been no major breakthrough and an initial assessment of a signal picked up by an Australian P-3C Orion aircraft yesterday wasn’t related to an aircraft black box, Houston said in an e-mailed statement.

Underwater Vehicle

“A decision as to when to deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle will be made on advice from experts on board the Ocean Shield and could be some days away,” Houston said.

Pinpointing where and when to use the slow-moving sub is pivotal, according to Dukane Seacom, which makes the pingers.

Noise from the submersible would make it difficult to hear pulses at the same time, heightening the urgency to settle on an underwater patrol zone before the units’ batteries die.

“Everybody is trying not to jump to any conclusion that may lead to any further speculation,” said Scott Gustetter, chief executive officer of airline consultant Aspirion, in Sydney. “I think they would want to find it before they say this is what it is conclusively.”

Malaysian Air Flight 370 vanished en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people on board. With the hunt for the Boeing Co. 777-200ER running for 34 days, the beacons marking the jet’s cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders are at the edge of — if not beyond — the 30-day projected limit of their power packs.

Pinger Locator

mr_014-2

Chart showing ADV Ocean Shield towed pinger locator detections as of April 9, 2014.

“The more dots they can put on the map in terms of signals, then they can use the readings to narrow in,” Dukane Seacom President Anish Patel said in a phone interview from Sarasota, Florida, where the company is based.

That means waiting to deploy the Bluefin-21 unmanned submarine from the Ocean Shield, even though it’s tempting to do so now, Phoenix’s Gibson said in an interview. A team from Largo, Maryland-based Phoenix is aboard the Australian ship to run the towed pinger locator under contract for the U.S. Navy.

Bluefin-21 will scan the ocean bottom with soundwaves once the search zone is refined, according to the JACC. Sonar produces images identifying possible wreckage just as a sonogram shows human organs under the skin, enabling the sub to operate in an area where water depths exceeding about 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) keep the seabed in perpetual darkness.

False Leads

The possible signal detected by a sonobuoy from a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion patrol plane “has been determined as not related to an aircraft underwater locator beacon,” retired Air Chief Marshal Houston said in a statement yesterday.

False leads, dashed hopes and the failure to find any physical evidence have marked most of the mystery of Flight 370 so far. The Ocean Shield detected two signals on April 5 and two more on April 8.

In laboratory tests, batteries on the pingers have lasted as long as 42 days “at a much lower rate,” although after Day 40, the signal probably would be so weak as to not be worth the effort to find it, Dukane Seacom’s Patel said.

“You’d have to be right on top of it” to locate it after Day 40, he said. “This is all bonus time.”

A typical battery begins to fade after 35 days and loses “meaningful output” from 38 to 40 days, Patel said. The power declines to one-eighth to one-fourth of its normal level, he said.

Still Working

“I’m glad to hear they’re still picking up signals,” he said. “That means our batteries are still doing their thing.”

Pulses from the beacons may travel farther than two miles (3.2 kilometers) in “real-world” conditions compared with laboratory tests, Patel said. Underwater temperature inversion layers known as thermoclines also can bend or reflect sound waves.

“Because of the thermoclines, because of the way the ocean can channel the sound depending on currents and topology, you may get more travel,” Patel said. “A lot of different things factor into that.”

Both pingers on the two black boxes may be sending signals, and they could have ended up far apart underwater in the search zone, Patel said. That may explain why authorities haven’t further pinpointed where the signals are coming from. Pingers also can come loose in a crash, as occurred when Air France Flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Probability Circle

Patel said Dukane Seacom, a unit of Hollywood, Florida- based Heico Corp., has analyzed the findings from Ocean Shield and concluded that the signals were consistent with those from the company’s pingers.

“Narrowing the probability circle” of where a debris field lies is critical to an efficient underwater search, said John Fish, a principal of Bourne, Massachusetts-based American Underwater Search & Survey Ltd.

The four spots where the Phoenix team heard pinger sounds span a zone as long as 30 kilometers long on one side, according to the JACC. Even if that were tightened somewhat, a sonar-based hunt would take at least 20 days, said Fish, who has participated in numerous such searches.

If the Phoenix team can cut the zone to a square about 10 kilometers on a side, the search time would shrink to less than a week, Fish said in an interview.

Flight 370’s disappearance is now the longest in modern airline history, baffling authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip as the jet headed north over the Gulf of Thailand. After vanishing from civilian radar, the wide-body craft doubled back, flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into some of the world’s most remote waters.

While the motive behind that heading remains unknown, Flight 370 was deliberately steered south on a path ending in the Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

–With assistance from John Walcott in Washington, Shamim Adam and Kyunghee Park in Singapore, Jason Scott in Perth, Laura Hurst in London, Zachary Tracer in New York, Michael Heath, Edward Johnson, David Fickling, Narayanan Somasundaram and Michael Sin in Sydney and Andrea Rothman in Toulouse.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

The post Australia Narrows ‘Pinger’ Search for MH370 to Within Kilometers appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/10/14

Australian Plane Hears Signal After Ship Captures Pings

Navy-Submarine-Sonar-Officer

Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward Potts-Szoke, a naval flight officer attached to Patrol Squadron VP 16, monitors his workstation on a P-8A Poseidon during a mission to assist in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. File Photo.

By Narayanan Somasundaram, Michael Sin and Alan Levin

April 10 (Bloomberg) — An Australian search plane picked up a transmission around the area where a ship previously heard pings, a day after investigators expressed optimism they can soon locate the missing Malaysian Air jet in the Indian Ocean.

A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft detected the possible signal “in the vicinity” of where defense ship Ocean Shield earlier heard pings, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in an e-mailed statement today. The signal was collected by a sensor-equipped sonobuoy, which floats on ocean surface after they are parachuted out of aircraft.

“The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight, but shows potential of being from a man-made source,” Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads the JACC, said in the statement.

The latest findings follow previous contacts in the last five days, as investigators seek to narrow the search area enough to deploy a robot submarine that can scan the seabed for possible wreckage. Even after a monthlong operation, salvage crews have failed to retrieve any debris matching the Boeing 777-200, and the search field has shifted thousands of miles as teams trawl the Indian Ocean.

The sonobuoys, equipped with a radio that transmits data back to the aircraft, will deploy a hydrophone 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, JACC said in a separate statement.

Fading Power

The pulses heard on April 8 following two April 5 contacts bolstered authorities’ confidence that they are finally zeroing in on debris a month after Flight 370 vanished. Knowing where to start underwater surveillance is pivotal before committing the Ocean Shield’s sonar-equipped submersible.

The two most recent sounds heard by the ship were faint and partially obscured by background noise, according to Phoenix International Holdings Inc., the Largo, Maryland-based contractor operating the U.S. Navy’s towed pinger locator aboard the Ocean Shield. Australia’s JACC said one of the contacts heard by the vessel lasted for 5 minutes and 32 seconds, and the other for 7 minutes.

Fading power reserves for the beacons on the Boeing Co. 777-200ER’s cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders add urgency to the search. The batteries are nearing the end of their life span after the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. On board were 239 passengers and crew members.

More Objects

The search area for today was narrowed to 57,923 square kilometers, the JACC said in a statement. Up to 10 military aircraft, four civil aircraft and 13 ships will assist in the operations, about 2,280 kilometers northwest of Perth.

Aircraft and ships reported spotting a large number of objects during yesterday’s search, according to the statement. Only a small number were able to be recovered, it said.

The Ocean Shield carries an unmanned sub, the Bluefin-21, that is ready to launch and start scouring the seafloor with sound waves once the search zone is refined, Houston said. Water depths in the area exceed about 4,500 meters (14,800 feet), far from any natural light from the surface.

By passing back and forth across the area, the search vessel and the towed pinger locator are “narrowing the probability circle of where the debris field is suspected to be,” said John Fish, a principal of Bourne, Massachusetts-based American Underwater Search & Survey Ltd.

Pinger Sounds

Sounds from the pingers don’t travel as far when the signal weakens, so picking up the new contacts suggests that the Ocean Shield is getting closer to the wreckage, said Fish, whose company has helped recover numerous aircraft and their black-box recorders from underwater.

The pingers have a range of about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers), according to the manufacturer, Dukane Seacom, a unit of Hollywood, Florida-based Heico Corp. The black-box maker is Morris Township, New Jersey-based Honeywell International Inc.

Dukane Seacom has analyzed data collected on the pings and concluded that the signals “would be very difficult to be anything else than the acoustic signature of a beacon,” President Anish Patel said in a telephone interview. “Does it have to be the black-box beacon? It could be something else, but the likelihood of it being something else is doubtful.”

Stable Signal

Analysis of earlier pings heard by the Ocean Shield determined that a “very stable” signal was detected at 33.331 kilohertz and it consistently pulsed at 1.106-second intervals, JACC’s Houston said. Two signals — one lasting two hours and 20 minutes and the other for 13 minutes — were detected after the deployment of the pinger locator. On the second pass, two pinger signatures were recorded simultaneously, Houston said April 7.

Dukane Seacom’s pingers are supposed to pulse at 37.5 kilohertz. While the units are designed to have a tolerance of plus or minus one kilohertz from the intended frequency, the difference between the intended signal and the pulses picked up at sea in recent days may not be significant, Patel said.

Tests on a beacon recovered from Air France Flight 447, the jet that crashed in the South Atlantic in 2009, found that the unit had shifted frequency after months on the ocean floor, transmitting at 34 kilohertz, Patel said.

According to a map from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the four pings heard so far came from a triangular zone with one side almost 30 kilometers long. The distances between the four detections may be explained by the fact that there are two black boxes, each with a pinger, Fish said.

Satellite Signal

Even after sending the Bluefin-21 into the water to prowl the ocean bottom with sonar, the search may face complications because of a blanket of silt several meters deep on the seabed, Houston said.

Houston said the location of the pings is lining up with other evidence of where the plane may be. The underwater sounds were detected near where analysts estimate a final, partial satellite signal was received from the Malaysian plane, Houston said.

That last pulse to an Inmarsat Plc satellite is where investigators believe the 777’s two engines may have flamed out, Houston said. It’s probably significant in terms of the end of powered flight, he said.

The jet’s disappearance is now the longest in modern airline history, baffling authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip as Flight 370 headed north over the Gulf of Thailand. After vanishing from radar, the wide- body craft doubled back, flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into some of the world’s most remote waters.

While the motive behind that heading remains unknown, Flight 370 was deliberately steered south on a path ending in the Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

–With assistance from John Walcott in Washington, Shamim Adam and Kyunghee Park in Singapore, Jason Scott in Perth, Laura Hurst in London, Zachary Tracer in New York, Michael Heath, Edward Johnson and David Fickling in Sydney, Andrea Rothman in Toulouse and Thomas Black in Monterrey .

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

The post Australian Plane Hears Signal After Ship Captures Pings appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/8/14

Black Box Pinger’s Signature Is Unmistakable to Trained Ears

ADV Ocean Shield. Photo courtesy Hpeterswald/Creative Commons

ADV Ocean Shield. Photo courtesy Hpeterswald/Creative Commons

Alan Levin and Thomas Black

April 8 (Bloomberg) — Aircraft black-box pingers, like those from the missing Malaysian jetliner lying somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean, emit a sound signature almost impossible to mimic in nature.

Their standard frequency of 37.5 kilohertz, outside the range of human hearing, and once-a-second tempo were chosen in part to minimize chances the signals could be mistaken for a marine mammal or another manmade object.

So when the crew of the Australian search vessel Ocean Shield picked up two sets of pulses consistent with black-box signals, it seemed to John Fish like the first real lead to finding the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane that went missing March 8 with 239 passengers and crew. Black boxes have two sets of pingers, one each for the flight-data and cockpit- voice recorders.

“If you’re hearing both of them, you’re getting close,” said Fish, a principal of the undersea exploration company American Underwater Search & Survey Ltd.. “This wild-goose- chase search might be winding down real quick here.”

Locating the black boxes may be the last best chance to learn what happened to Flight 370. Someone in the cockpit deliberately turned the Boeing Co. 777-200ER off its flight path toward Beijing onto a course that ended in the ocean off Australia after disabling communications devices that track the plane, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

Two Pingers

After the initial detection lasting more than two hours, the Ocean Shield turned and detected the pinger sound for an additional 13 minutes on a second pass over the area, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre. The water is about 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) deep in the region, Houston said yesterday in Perth.

“On this occasion, two distinct pinger returns were audible,” he said.

Investigators have reduced the search area by almost two- thirds.

The towed pinger locator is being operated by a team from Phoenix International Holdings Inc., Jim Gibson, the company’s general manager, said in an interview. The company, based in Largo, Maryland, built the device and operates under contract to the U.S. Navy, Gibson said.

“I think we are all cautiously optimistic,” he said. The team hasn’t been able to pick up the signal since the two initial passes and needs to rule out any false leads before verifying it has found the plane, he said.

‘Pretty Amazing’

The frequency of the sound detected from the ship was 33 kilohertz, which is below the 37.5 kilohertz the pingers are designed to emit, Gibson said. A failing battery or damage to the unit may cause a frequency shift, Anish Patel, president of Dukane Seacom, a unit of Hollywood, Florida-based Heico Corp. and the maker of the pinger, said in an interview.

Searchers are racing against time because the pinger batteries are already beyond their certified life of 30 days.

The batteries will probably function for at least five days beyond their expected lifespan and then begin to fade, said Chris Portale, finance director of Duane.

“It’s pretty amazing that they narrowed it down and actually heard something with no debris on the surface,” he said.

Even if the sounds are from Flight 370’s recorders, locating the crash-proof black boxes — which are actually painted bright orange — after hearing their pingers is a painstaking process.

Hydrophones’ Limits

Hydrophones picking up the sounds can’t determine what direction they’re coming from, Fish said. Typically, a ship would tow the hydrophone back and forth over the search zone, ruling out areas without a signal and listening for when the signal is strongest, Fish said. His Bourne, Massachusetts-based company has been involved in several searches for aircraft under water.

It may still take days to get a more precise location, he said. The hydrophone, which is pulled by a cable miles behind the boat, can swing back and forth with currents and can be difficult to control, he said.

Many factors can interfere with the signal and make it harder to detect, Fish said. Temperature inversion layers known as thermoclines can bend or reflect sound waves. In one case, Fish’s team wasn’t able to hear a crashed helicopter’s pinger beyond one-quarter mile because it had fallen beneath one of the craft’s rotor blades.

The pinger should be detectable within about 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers), Portale said.

Search Tools

Sometimes, pingers become dislodged from the recorders, so undersea vehicles must photograph a wider area to locate them, Fish said.

It also isn’t clear how valuable the recorders will be to investigators if they are recovered, John Cox, president of Washington-based Safety Operating Systems, said in an interview.

One of the boxes records four channels of sound from the cockpit on a two-hour loop. Since the plane flew for about seven hours after it turned off its planned course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and disappeared from radar, it probably only captured the last two hours, said Cox, who teaches aviation safety and has been involved in several crash investigations.

“As far as the initial event goes, it’s virtually impossible that it would be on the voice recorder,” he said.

The data recorder, which stores hundreds of parameters of information on aircraft performance, captures 25 hours, so it may be more useful, he said.

Silkair Crash

The searchers also can’t be sure the recorders were operating. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded a pilot on a Silkair 737 that crashed on Dec. 19, 1997, in Indonesia may have used circuit breakers to shut off recorders before intentionally crashing the plane. The accident killed all 104 people aboard.

In addition to salvaging the recorders if the plane is found, underwater vehicles will inspect the wreckage for evidence such as a mechanical malfunction or charring indicating a fire, Cox said.

Authorities will be cautious about characterizing the sounds until there’s concrete proof they’re from Flight 370, Dukane Seacom’s Portale said.

“With all the false hope that’s been given to the families of the victims, they’re having an overabundance of caution,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net; Thomas Black in Dallas at tblack@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net Ed Dufner

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

The post Black Box Pinger’s Signature Is Unmistakable to Trained Ears appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.

04/4/14

Search for MH370 Extends Beneath the Surface

ADV Ocean Shield. Photo courtesy Hpeterswald/Creative Commons

ADV Ocean Shield. Photo courtesy Hpeterswald/Creative Commons

By Jason Scott

April 5 (Bloomberg) — Crews hunting for the missing Malaysian jet are extending the search to beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean, listening for pings from beacons on the plane’s black boxes before the onboard batteries fail.

An Australian ship towing U.S. Navy sensors and a British survey vessel are conducting the underwater checks, bolstered by nine other craft and as many as 15 planes today, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in a statement. Fair weather was forecast in the area, with possible showers.

Finding the jet’s cockpit and flight-data recorders is crucial to unraveling a mystery that began March 8 when contact was lost with the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane. The challenge is narrowing the surveillance zone to get close enough to hear the black boxes’ pingers as their batteries near the end of a lifespan of about 30 days.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau continues to refine the area where the aircraft entered the water based on continuing ground-breaking and multi-disciplinary technical analysis of satellite communication and aircraft performance,” Australia’s JACC said in the statement.

The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Ocean Shield is scouring the sea floor with the U.S. Navy’s “towed pinger locator” and the U.K.’s HMS Echo boasts “similar capability,” retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads the JACC, told reporters yesterday in Perth, Australia.

Deadline Nears

Houston alluded to the race against the clock to detect signals from the pingers on the black boxes before their power gives out, saying, “We’re now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire.”

Today’s search will focus on three areas within a broader patrol zone of about 217,000 square kilometers (84,000 square miles), 1,700 kilometers northwest of Perth, the JACC said.

Flight 370, a Boeing Co. 777-200ER carrying 239 people, was deliberately steered off its flight path to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and onto a course that ended in the southern Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

Investigators have relied on limited contact between Flight 370 and an Inmarsat Plc satellite to draw up possible paths for the jet after it vanished from civilian radar. Planes and ships from Australia, Malaysia, China, the U.S., South Korea, New Zealand and Japan are taking part in the hunt, the longest in modern passenger-airline history between a disappearance and initial findings of debris.

Available Data

“We’ve probably got to the end of the process of analysis and my expectation is, you know, we’re into a situation where the data that we’ve got is the data that we’ve got,” Houston said. “And we’ll proceed on the basis of that.”

The Echo, launched in 2002, can collect military hydrographic and oceanographic data and carries a detachment of marines, according to the British navy’s website. British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless also joined the hunt this week.

The multinational air-and-sea search is costing a “lot of money,” Houston said yesterday, without giving a figure.

The U.S. military has spent more than $3.3 million on its role in the multinational hunt and may spend as much as $8 million before the search ends, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters April 2.

So-called black boxes are actually bright orange to help find them in wreckage. While designed to operate at depths of 3.8 miles (6.1 kilometers) and may work in even deeper water, the range of the beacons’ pings is a mile, according to manuals from Honeywell International Inc., the maker of the equipment. That may make the signals hard to pick up even if an underwater microphone is over the correct location.

Undersea Mountains

It can be difficult to hear the pingers if they are blocked by undersea mountains. Layers of water with different temperatures can also damp sounds.

In the search for wreckage of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil in 2009, authorities were able to focus on a 6,700-square-mile area after finding objects adrift five days following the crash. They also had a last known position and four minutes of signals from a jet- messaging system dubbed Acars, which was shut off on Flight 370.

Even with those clues, the pings from Flight 447’s recorders weren’t picked up. It took two voyages over almost a two-year period to find the debris field with unmanned underwater vehicles.

–With assistance from Edward Johnson in Sydney and John Walcott in Washington.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

The post Search for MH370 Extends Beneath the Surface appeared first on gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News.