Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01, searching for the missing Malaysian passenger jet MH370, detected a pulse signal with a frequency of 37.5kHz per second in southern Indian Ocean waters Saturday.
A black box detector deployed by the Haixun 01 picked up the signal at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longtitude. It is yet to be established whether it is related to the missing jet.
Why the underwater search has begun almost a month after the plane was lost?
I think people were very cautious about where to deploy those tools, where do you put them in the water without any sort of real evidence. There are only a few of that kind of technologies, so I think they wanted to be very careful not to burnout the team without being fairly sure about where to do the listening.
So, there is a special type of equipment here. This isn’t something that the military would have.
In fact, I think the Towed Pinger Locator and the robot that is there is in fact under contract to the US navy. So, I think in a way it is operated by a US company, but I believe they are in fact being directed by the US navy.
Are there any facilities in underwater search that are absolutely new and have never been used before?
Yes, sure! I mean, the research community and the ocean community, the industrial community, we are always pushing to develop new technologies – new batteries, new sensors, new sonars and being able to explore and work in the ocean faster and better. So, almost every week there is something new being developed. But it is very difficult. It is not what people think, because the oceans are so very difficult to work in.
What is the difference in the Indian Ocean versus where you were looking for the wreckage of Air France flight 447?
The Air France 447 was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just between South America and Africa. There the sea floor topography was extremely steep and ragged. It is like the most ragged mountains, except they are under water on the planet. For Malaysia Air 370, this area it is a bit better, it is a bit easier to work in, but there are still pockets where it is difficult. But mostly, it is the underwater Air France 447 was the most difficult. But in this present case there are so few clues and the weather can be much worse than it was for Air France 447.
If I remember correctly the Air France flight 447 was in a very deep trench and that was one of the major problems, whereas in the Indian Ocean where they are looking now it is not as deep.
Right! Well, just a wee bit to the north and a wee bit to the east it can be as deep. 6000 meters was the deepest in the spot of Air France 447, but it was in a little pocket on top of the mountain. It was very odd. It was like in a mountain valley. So, there were huge mountain peaks on either side of it with steep cliffs. In this case it is mostly smaller hills and there are a few mountains, but nothing really too incredible.
Is underwater search much more scrupulous and time- and effort-taking than searching above water?
Yes, because we can’t use GPS. We have to use sound for navigation. There are no lights when you get to the deep ocean. So, that’s difficult. We can’t use radio waves to talk back and forth with either each other or with the robots. And there are no maps. We have to make our own maps. So, it is all very-very different form on-land.
And out of curiosity, how do the radio waves travel through water versus air? Do they at all?
They don’t at all. From a satellite they only go a few inches at most through the water. They really don’t penetrate the water at all. So, we have to use sound. To communicate we use sound, to navigate we have to use sound. So, sound goes a long way under water and the sound becomes a lot more important to us.
In your opinion, do you feel that they will be able to find this airplane?
There is news this morning that the Chinese have heard something, a pinger at the right frequency with the sounds exactly right, and it is kind of in the right area. So, you know, I think there is a lot of optimism that maybe something today will turn up.
And what is this pinger that the Chinese might have found?
In the plane there are these black boxes which record the voice and the flight data. They have two pingers that make sound. So, in the case of the plane going in the water, these pingers start making sound and it supposedly makes the plane easier to find under water. In shallow water it is easier, in deep water it’s always proven to be very difficult. And so, you have to right in the right place at the right time to hear these things. And apparently the Chinese were able to do that.
And a pinger is a little speaker that constantly puts out a little frequency?
Exactly! It is a little beeper that puts out a certain frequency at a certain rate and that’s how people can tell from the other background noise in the ocean and it is actually the pinger.
A beacon, so to speak.
It is like a beacon, exactly right! In fact, some people call them beacons. So, it is a beacon, right.