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article imageSearch for plane debris on ocean surface ending

By Nathan Salant     Apr 17, 2014 in Travel
Perth - Authorities investigating the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 say their search for debris floating in the Indian Ocean is ending and efforts will shift to the seabed.
Australian officials leading the search in three-mile deep water off Perth said Monday that they had stopped receiving signals from the missing Boeing 777's flight recorders and would concentrate on the ocean floor using a submersible drone borrowed from the United States.
"We haven't had a single detection in six days," Australia's search coordinator, retired defense chief Angus Houston, told the Reuters news service.
"It's time to go underwater," Houston said.
No trace of the Malaysia Airlines plane nor its 239 passengers and crew have been spotted since the jetliner disappeared March 8 on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, despite a massive search effort involving aircraft and ships from a dozen countries.
Investigators have reported spotting an unverified oil slick in the search zone and a U.S. official said a Malaysia cellphone tower might have received a signal from the co-pilot's device at the time of the disappearance.
A sample of the oil was taken by one of the search vessels for analysis.
"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," Houston said, referring to a towed pinger locator device connected to the ship by cable.
But there have been a dozen leads since the search began and none of them has revealed anything about the fate of the plane.
"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," Houston said.
Houston said the underwater vehicle could take as long as two months to scan the entire ocean floor in the search area, about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth.
The Bluefin-21 uses side-scan sonar to create pictures of the ocean floor and has been used to find sunken ships before.
Similar technology was used to find Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 and wasn't found until two years later.
Plans call for the Bluefin-21 to search the seafloor as much as 16 hours a day, since it takes four hours for the vessel to be lowered and raised from the bottom and four hours to download findings from its computers.
Evidence that a cellphone tower had made contact with the co-pilot's cellphone does not necessarily mean Fariq Abdul Hamid tried to make a call at around the time the plane disappeared, even though that was what was reported by an Australian newspaper this week, authorities told Reuters.
The captain of the airplane was Zaharie Ahmad Shah of Kuala Lumpur, a veteran Malaysia Airlines pilot with more than 18,000 hours of flying experience.
More about Malaysia, flight 370, Airline, Indian ocean, Missing plane
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