Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

The Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Artemis Bluefin-21, on the deck of the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield, berthed at Fleet Base West near Perth (5 May 2014) The Bluefin-21 being used in the underwater search is on loan from the US

The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been delayed after the discovery of a technical issue with the underwater drone used in the hunt.

The communications equipment on the Bluefin-21, on loan from the US, has a "defect", Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

It is now awaiting spare parts from the UK before it can continue its search in the southern Indian Ocean.

Flight MH370 went missing on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

There were 239 people, mostly Chinese nationals, on board. Using satellite data, officials have concluded that MH370 ended its journey in waters north-west of the Australian city of Perth.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein: "The operation has now entered a transition phase, prioritising deep sea search"

However the ongoing multinational search for the missing plane - shaping up to be the most expensive in aviation history - has yet to yield any concrete findings.

The robotic submarine Bluefin-21, operated off the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, is an autonomous underwater vehicle that can identify objects by creating a sonar map of the sea floor.

MH370 - Facts at a glance

  • 8 March: Malaysia Airlines Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight carrying 239 people disappears
  • Plane's transponder, which communicates with ground radar, was switched off as it left Malaysian airspace
  • Satellite 'pings' indicate plane was still flying seven hours after take off
  • 24 March: Based on new calculations, Malaysian PM says "beyond reasonable doubt" that plane crashed in southern Indian Ocean with no survivors

It had only restarted its mission in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean following maintenance. Its initial search of the area where acoustic signals thought to be from flight recorders were heard found nothing.

"Examination of the communications problem has established that a hardware defect exists in the transponder mounted on the Ocean Shield and that a defect may also exist in the transponder mounted on the Bluefin-21," JACC said.

"This inhibits the ability of the two devices to communicate with each other," the statement added.

Spare parts from the UK and are due to arrive on Sunday, the agency said. The issue was discovered on Wednesday.

The Ocean Shield is now on its way to Dampier, Western Australia - a journey that is expected to take a few days - to receive the parts and await repairs, it added.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammudin Hussein said that the air and surface search for the missing plane would be suspended.

"The search operation has entered a transition phase, prioritising deep sea search. In this context the air and surface search has been suspended," he said in Kuala Lumpur.

He added that an Australian P3 Orion aircraft and naval ships from Australia, Malaysia and China would remain on standby in Perth.

Ocean off the coast of Australia

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