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Underwater Listening Devices Play Critical Role In Finding Missing Jet

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Signals picked up by underwater listening equipment may finally give searchers a location on the missing Malaysian jet. But the next step is even more complicated.

Alex DeMetrick reports on the tools likely to be used.

Ten years ago, searchers used underwater side-scanning sonar to search for the wreckage of a Baltimore water taxi that sank in the Inner Harbor.

That technology found what divers couldn’t.

And it’s likely to be used now, after underwater listening devices deployed off the Australian coast picked up signals that strongly resemble those from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

And while it’s a race against battery life to pinpoint those recorders, finding wreckage could be a marathon.

“If they obtain another acoustic event for that ping location, it will be the trigger at the moment to launch the autonomous underwater vehicle with a more accurate sonar, and potentially camera, for mapping, visually looking at the ocean floor,” said Cmdr. Peter Leavy, Australian Navy.

Those autonomous vehicles are bigger than the device used in Baltimore, and can operate on their own.  But images look a lot like what Natural Resources Police see every day under the Chesapeake.

But off Australia, water is nearly three miles deep.

“In deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast,” said Angus Houston, chief search coordinator.

Then it will be up to machines, like the underwater robots built by Maryland company Oceaneering, to recover whatever sonar might find.

Oceaneering, the Maryland firm that builds underwater machines, was a critical player in the recovery efforts of a TWA flight that crashed into the Atlantic in 1996.

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